On Thursday, February 25, 1999, Robert and Jeffrey interviewed a local farmer, Mr. Jeffrey Gilcrease. He owns a farm in Lemoore, California, which is in the Central Valley. The farm has been in his family for over one hundred years. He has ten to eleven employees. Some of his employees work full time, but the rest work part time. We interviewed Mr. Gilcrease for over an hour, and he provided the following information:
Describe the nature of your farm.
I mainly grow feed crops. Feed crops are crops that are used to feed cattle. The crops that I grow are alfalfa, corn, and wheat. I do grow cotton and other when the prices for them are better.
What is the legal form of your organization?
I'm a sole proprietor which means that I am the only owner of the farm.
How many years have you been in business?
I have been farming for twenty-seven years.
How many employees do you have?
I have three full-time employees and six to seven part-time employees.
Do you pay them hourly or are they salaried?
I pay them by the hour because sometimes they only work a few hours and other times they work many hours. Therefore, it wouldn't be fair for them to get a weekly or monthly salary year round.
How much do your employees earn each hour?
I pay them six dollars a hour, but their wages increase the longer they work for me. For example, a new employee only gets six dollars an hour because they're just learning the required skills that they will need. On the other hand, a person who has worked for me for ten years has developed many skills, and, therefore, deserves more money.
How many hours do you work as the owner?
In the winter I work eight hours a day, but in the spring, summer, and fall I work twelve to fourteen hours a day. Many times a farmer's work depends on the weather. For example, if the crop need water and it hasn't rained, I must irrigate my fields which can take many hours. At other times, I spend my time is checking my fields for pests. If I find them, I have to apply pesticides. If my machinery breaks down, I have to fix it. Of course, I must also make sure my crops get picked when they are ready.
Do you have seasonal employees?
I consider my part-timers as seasonal since they only work during the busy times of the year.
What qualities do you look for in your employees?
I look for experience, good organizational skills, and people who are able to take directions well.
Have you found owners of similar businesses to be friendly?
Yes, because we have something in common. We share our knowledge and help each other become successful farmers.
Why did you pick this job to go into?
I was born on the ranch and grew up around farming. I didn't see the need to try something that I didn't know anything about.
How did you determine the location of your business?
I didn't get to choose the location of my farm because it was handed down to me by my father who got it from his father. My grandfather is the one who bought the land and farmed it. As you can see, the land has been in my family for many years.
If you were to start a new business this year, what changes would you make?
I wouldn't make many changes, and the few changes I would make would be subtle. Right now I am a successful farmer.
What months do you have the greatest amount of sales?
I have the greatest number of sales April through November.
What percentage do you think your business should bring you each year?
Ten percent would be fair even though I would want more.
What government subsidies are you receiving?
I have subsidies for corn, wheat, and barley. The government pays me money to subsidize the lower prices that these crops bring. Subsidizing means that I get aid or assistance with a grant of money to help make up the difference of a low crop price.
How do you feel about subsidies in general for farmers?
I do not like them because I feel that if a grower can't make management decisions that include planting crops that will give a good return on their investment, as well as not spending more on growing a crop than it has a hope of returning, then perhaps that person should find something else to do. In other words, a farmer needs to plant a crop which will allow him to make money.
Does your farm use fertilizers and pesticides?
I use fertilizers and pesticides on my crops. Fertilizers help the crops grow better, and pesticides keep the weeds and insects from destroying my crops. Pesticides include herbicides that control weeds. Herbicides are poisonous chemicals used to destroy weeds.
What precautions do you take when using pesticides?
I have my employees wear full protection. That means they wear special clothing which covers their body and hands. I also have the doctors number nearby, and I always have water close by just in case they get any pesticides on them.
Are you familiar with Integrated Pest Management?
Yes I am. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the managing of all insects, good and bad, for the benefit of the crop.
Do you utilize IPM?
Yes, I utilize IPM because it is cost effective, and if managed correctly, it can enhance the yield. If the bad insects are killed, more of the crop survives.
Are you an organic farmer?
An organic farmer can not use any pesticides on their crops. I am not an organic farmer because I cannot grow crops organically and still show a profit. It costs too much money for me to grow crops organically.
What's a unique feature about your farm?
My farm has been in the same family for over one hundred years. In America today, the family farm is not as common as it used to be. Many farms are owned by big organizations.
What do you consider the most common management problem in operating a business?
Common management problems are being too aggressive, growing at a rate that is too difficult to manage, and gaining a large debt. If my farm goes into debt, it is hard for me to borrow the cash I might need to operate my farm. If I am too aggressive, I could get myself into a situation where a bad year could jeopardize our farming future.
What's the biggest problem in operating your business?
I think the biggest problem is the availability of water. I farm in an area that is normally dry. If it does not rain much during winter, then our resevoirs that store water from winter snows for spring and summer irrigating start to go dry. Sometimes I have to pay a high price for water.
What prepared you to be a farmer?
I think what prepared me to be a farmer was working on a ranch when I was little. Also I have always wanted to be a farmer. It is a great life!
What are some political issues that you are concerned about?
Some of the political issues that I am concerned about are water projects and the water quality. The reason I am concerned about these are that the state of California is increasing in population and there is more water that is needed for people, as well as the growing of crops. We also need to protect our groundwater from contamination. Much of the drinking water for cities comes from groundwater.
Where do you see farming in the future?
I see the farms growing larger and becoming less plentiful. Corporations will control the larger farms, and they will be run just like any large oganization with a CEO, board of directors, and a labor force. There will be fewer family farms. I also see that computers and Internet will play a part in a farmer's life. Right now, a farmer can get minute-by minute weather reports on the Internet. Farmers will also be able to use the Internet to sell their crop.
What are some things you do as a farmer?
I stay involved with all aspects of my farm. Every decision is made by myself or my wife. She is very involved in the record keeping and financial end of the business. I have reached a point in my life that due to experience and time management, I can spend more time with my wife and children.