John Paul and Adam Baugher, from Aspers, Pennsylvania


family background/ Both Adam and John Paul are part of the fifth generation operating their family farm. John Paul went to Penn State University and Adam went to Bloomsburg University. They are the sons of Cindy and Chris Baugher.

age/John Paul, 29, left, and Adam, 32
grower/Aspers, Pennsylvania
crops/Apples, peaches and nursery production
business/Adams County Nursery

How did you get your start?
Adam: I was rather unenthralled with working around the farm, because what we were doing as kids was tasks that were more character-building than fun. We learned the horticultural basics of how to grow a tree, especially from a nursery-type application. I had pretty much sworn off working on the farm by the time I went to college. I obviously reconsidered and came back. I didn’t get my eyes opened to what the nursery looked like until I came back — and that’s one of the factors that changed my mind.

John Paul: We did a lot of summer work growing up, and that involved orchard thinning and maintenance. At that point, I think our family moved our nursery production to Delaware, so our nursery experiences were pretty limited.

Where are you learning new techniques?
John Paul: When we were learning our growing practices, we relied a lot on our folks and learning from other regions to guide us to manage the horticultural aspects of the farm. We relied on information coming from Eastern research universities that specialize in tree fruits in our growing region, such as Penn State, Cornell and Michigan State.

Learning from other growers in our area has also helped. I would say we were planting a lot more trellised fruit than other people in the area, so that was one area where we differed.

A lot of what we’ve done has been learn-as-we-go. I wasn’t the first one on our farm installing trellising, and I look at those early examples and wonder what we were thinking. We have some trellis that is very underbuilt, and I think we’ve learned our lessons multiple times. But the more we learn, we try to improve on what’s been installed on the farm.

What are some of your challenges?
John Paul: A typical Pennsylvania spring is disease-heavy. We have a lot of rains, fire blight and scab. Those can be some pretty big-ticket items to manage, and we’re constantly battling Mother Nature — and sometimes available labor.

Adam: One of the things we are currently facing is making the change from one generation to the next. Those changes have been a big part of what I’ve been working on. From learning what to do and what not to do, and also how to take risks. There hasn’t been a lot of resources outside of the people on our nursery.

I’m trying to take time to look at all protocols and processes to find areas we can improve and cut out the fat to make more efficient decisions — whether it be how we collect data or the way we utilize our workforce. Learning how to manage our staff has been more challenging than the horticultural aspects, because we’ve had 100 or so years to learn how to grow trees.

John Paul: Some struggles are getting good color on some varieties in this area. So, we’re doing everything we can horticulturally to get as much color as we can, such as planting on higher elevations, summer pruning and reflective material. It’s important to take your time to study what works best in your soil and do on-farm research in your management style.

How do you balance the needs of the farm and nursery?
Adam: For John Paul and me, we’ve been learning how to best share our workers between the nursery and the farm during the summer, so both of us can get our jobs done. That’s where we have struggled, and we are focused on improving the communication between the two parts of the business.

John Paul can get his job done and provide super high-quality fruit to a packer, while I can get my job done providing super high-quality nursery trees to our customers. Those two things are not always mutually exclusive from each other. There are times when the work is intertwined, such as when we’re both reacting to the same weather events but, depending on what we do, could have very different outcomes at the end of the year. In the short time we’ve had in these jobs, we’ve been focused on creating a structure where we can work within a longer-term plan but be able to react to what we’re dealing with in the moment.

Where does a shared labor pool create challenges?
John Paul: Finishing up our harvest (coincides) with digging up the nursery. During crunch time there’s a lot of things that need to get done at the orchard and nursery at the same time, and it can cause issues. We work through it and talk about it to find an answer that works for each of us, and I believe we’ve done a good job managing that shared pool of labor, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Operating a nursery and orchard can be very complementary in many ways, and having a shared labor pool is a great thing.

Adam: It takes good planning. If all you do is react, you’ll always be behind. We’re both strong believers in having a solid game plan with the flexibility to change within reason. If we aren’t thinking at least a week or two ahead of ourselves, then we get behind.

What advice do you have for other young growers?
John Paul: What’s helped me find my footing in the industry has been going to different conferences and the International Fruit Tree Association trainings. I’ve found it helpful to get to know people in the industry and my area, and then reach out to them to learn more. When you do that, it helps you feel like you are part of a large community, and that’s a big thing. A lot of my time is spent working on the farm alone. Having that community and knowing people I can ask how they might do something is really helpful

 

—TJ Mullinax



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