Making It Work: Teamwork allows young farmers to pursue success


Issue Date: October 11, 2017
By Christine Souza
San Joaquin County walnut farmers and brothers Nick and Joe Ferrari, above, work as a team on the farm to be successful in agriculture. They also advocate on behalf of farmers and ranchers through the county Farm Bureau, and as members of the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program.
Photo/Christine Souza
It’s a busy time in Linden, as Nick Ferrari, shaking a tree and his brother Joe Ferrari continue with walnut harvest.
Photo/Christine Souza
The farm operation, Ferrari Brothers Properties LLC, grows walnuts and operates a huller-dehydrator.
Photo/Christine Souza

Editor's note: This is the first installment of a three-part Ag Alert series about different paths young farmers and ranchers take as they build their agricultural careers.

Brothers Nick and Joe Ferrari pitch in where needed to help the family operation remain successful, despite the challenges they face. Fourth-generation farmers, the Ferrari brothers grow walnuts and operate a huller-dehydrator in San Joaquin County.

Typically, the brothers sit down with their father, Jim Ferrari, who is president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation, plan the day's farming schedule and collaborate on production and other farm duties.

"Whatever is going on, we're all in the middle of it," Nick Ferrari said, with Joe Ferrari adding, "We do virtually everything together as a team. Whenever help is needed, we both jump in and somehow fill it."

It's a busy time in the Ferraris' hometown of Linden, a region known for having just the right conditions—soil and a cooling breeze—for growing premium, light-colored walnuts. Harvest began in August and is expected to continue through November.

During this time, the Ferraris, who also offer custom-harvest work, will spend long hours shaking walnut trees and operating the family's huller-dehydrator, which also processes walnuts for other farmers in the region. The Ferrari family grows about 300 acres of walnuts and also a small crop of cherries.

A graduate of Santa Clara University with degrees in accounting and Italian studies, Joe Ferrari is the farm's regulatory specialist and food safety officer, ensuring that the company complies with food safety requirements and a myriad other government regulations.

When it comes to regulations, Nick Ferrari said, "you try to read it, and you end up throwing it in the corner and he (Joe) goes through it."

Joe Ferrari returned to the farm in 2008, after having worked outside of agriculture as a certified public accountant.

"I learned a lot of analytical skills working as a CPA. I would help out (at the farm) when I wasn't working, like on the weekends I'd fill in, but I always wanted to come back," he said.

Also a graduate of Santa Clara University, Nick Ferrari earned a degree in finance, and said he enjoys working on the mechanical aspects of the farm business.

"Where things started for me was at the back shop. I would come home from school and I was always in the shop, running for wrenches and stuff like that. That's what I looked forward to, learning ag mechanics," he said.

Like other farmers, the Ferraris face a number of challenges. Though walnuts require fewer employees than many crops, the Ferrari brothers faced a new problem this year: not having enough seasonal employees.

"This is the first year ever in walnut season that we had to use a farm labor contractor to locate people to rake the rows and help with harvest," Nick Ferrari said. "To get more help during the season, we're competing with crops such as grapes, that require workers for hand-picking."

When the Ferraris noticed a decrease in the number of available employees during cherry harvest, they decided to prepare for walnuts by adding a second row of optical sorting technology.

"When the walnuts run through the huller, there is stuff that has to be sorted out, and without those cameras you need a ton of people. This technology has evolved; these upgraded sorters are phenomenal," Nick Ferrari said.

At the dehydrator, the Ferraris rely on automated technology to remotely monitor the moisture levels of the walnuts, which protects the quality of the nuts.

Both brothers said they wonder how young people with an interest in farming would be able to enter the business today.

"We're young farmers and this is something that we worry about. We have to save up a lot of money to farm today," Joe Ferrari said.

Both Ferrari brothers have volunteered their time to advocate for agriculture.

As part of the 2015 Leadership Farm Bureau class, Nick Ferrari traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with regulators and elected officials about agricultural issues, and Joe Ferrari visited Washington as a county Farm Bureau leader in 2016. In addition, the Ferrari farm has hosted tours for legislators and other government officials.

"I really enjoy doing research and being able to help out the Farm Bureau whenever possible," Joe Ferrari said. "What helps me, also helps everybody else. Combining community service, helping the industry and staying with my family, I mean, what could be better?"

Both brothers take part in the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers program, for people ages 18 to 35 involved in agriculture and related businesses, which emphasizes networking, leadership, advocacy and community service.

Nick Ferrari serves on the YF&R state board. Both brothers are active members of the San Joaquin County YF&R chapter and also serve as directors of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation.

"After college, I came back home and there was not a whole lot of people my age doing what I do to interact with," Nick Ferrari said. "My dad said, 'They've got the YF&R program; why don't you go see what it's about?' When I first joined (San Joaquin) YF&R, there were six people and today we have a membership of 35 to 40 young people.

"My advice for other young agriculturalists is: Stay engaged and join the YF&R," he added. "You will meet like-minded people."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.