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Valuing Family Life on the Farm

Onion World
November 2007

Between operating a packing shed in Parma, Idaho, and running a farm headquartered in the Adrian, Oregon area, Brent and Jada Ishida often find themselves putting in extraordinary long days, especially during harvest time. That’s when the potatoes and onions begin rolling in and are run through Giant Produce, their packing shed. They are now full owners of Giant Produce, formerly P&I Produce, fi rst purchased in 1997.

With Brent Ishida Farms, their farming operation, involving ground in both Oregon and Idaho, their late summer and fall work days are long. It is often midnight before the packing shed lights are turned off and the couple heads home for a few hours of sleep. The next day of supervising what’s happening on the farm begins early in the morning. About 70 percent of their farm land is in Oregon and the remaining 30 percent in Idaho.

Onions, Potatoes and More
The Ishidas farm approximately 1,000 acres, including 190 acres of onions. Most are yellow storage types, but there also are a few acres of reds. Other crops grown include Norkotah Russets, grown
on the Idaho side, and wheat, alfalfa seed, alfalfa hay, corn and seed beans.

Champion Sales, based out of Champion Produce, near Parma, handles all of the marketing of both potato and onion crops. Comprised of Dwayne Fisher and John Wong, Champion Sales operates
as an independent sales organization for Giant Produce, Champion Produce and Tamura Produce. The consolidated effort enables the three independent packer/shippers to enjoy more marketing muscle
and service some of the larger accounts whose supply needs are too big for any of the three to service independently.

Brent and Jada view their business ventures as an opportunity to instill a work ethic in their children, something they believe is missing in much of America today. They have three children: Amber, 23, married with a new baby; Blake, 16, and Mark, 13. While Amber is gone from home, the two boys, as time allows, help out on the farm and in the packing shed.

“Our long-term goal is to continue doing what we are doing,” says Brent, “Here, it’s not about making money, as important as that may be; farm life plays a huge roll in helping us raise our kids. The quality
of living it provides is immeasurable.”

As busy as they are at work, the Ishidas have taken active roles counseling youth and married couples in their church, Nyssa Christian Fellowship, and in their community.

A Growing Need
“The needs out there just keep growing and growing,” Brent points out. “We’re seeing so many lost kids. Farm life and the opportunities provided there from are such an integral part of why our kids are who they are. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Brent also serves as varsity basketball coach at Adrian High School, an opportunity that enables him to spend more time with his kids and their friends in the school’s athletic program. Son Blake
is into basketball and football while Mark prefers wrestling and football; nonetheless, the family never misses a game. They pack up and follow the team.

“We love to hunt,” Brent adds, “and we also go up to the lake and enjoy water sports. We work hard, but we also play hard, and that’s what we tell the boys that they need to do. All of the credit,
as far as anything we may have accomplished or gained since we started, goes to our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the one who has allowed us, for some reason, to step into these positions of being able
to have a positive infl uence on others.”

‘Big City’ No More
`Describing herself as a former “mall rat” in the Portland, Oregon area, Jada admits to having had to adjust to rural farm life and being away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. “In Adrian, the streets roll up at 7 in the evening. Nothing is open, and there is little to see or do,” she laughs. “I came over to spend my last high school summer with my father,” Jada smiles. “Because of the divorce in our family,
I had not spent much time with Dad. He was principal of the Adrian school at the time.”

The community also had to adjust to seeing this city girl wearing Birkenstocks, she remembers. Initially, there was a lot of razing, but within a year she had met Brent and wedding plans were in the making.

In 1984, Brent and Jada purchased Brent’s parents’ farm, moved into the home where his parents had lived and began farming on their own. Brent’s father and uncle, Tom and Kay Ishida, respectively,
had farmed together as Ishida Brothers for many years and were now retiring.

“Jada and I started out with two tractors and a handful of equipment,” Brent remembers. “What really helped was a loan for firsttime farmers from the Farmers Home Administration. We began growing onions the first year, and have been at it ever since.”

The family farm has excellent water rights. It is surrounded by the Snake, Owyhee and Boise rivers. In recent years, Brent and Jada have been converting more of their onion acreage to drip irrigation. At present, roughly 70 percent is furrow-irrigated and 30 percent drip.

“Drip is giving us the ability to take some of our more marginal ground, where we have never been able to grow a quality crop of onions before, and make it productive,” says Brent. “Drip definitely conserves water and fertilizer costs; we are able to produce more uniform and better yielding crops with less fertilizer.”

2006 Was a Very Good Year
Over the years there have been ups and downs, but the 2006 onion season was one for the records and came at the right time, “We were fortunate to have been able to sell some of our crop when
prices were at their peak,” Brent says. “While it would have been nice to have sold more onions at that time, we had other contracts to fi ll. Also, as yields were down last year, the amount of onions sold
at those higher prices was limited.”

The grower-shipper is cautiously optimistic about the 2007 crop.

“Whenever you are coming off of a year with record prices, you tend to be a little nervous,” Brent admits. “However, this year’s crop looks good. From what I’ve seen to this point, I’m not expecting
a busting-at-the-seams crop. We have a decent crop, but it is still down from some of crops we’ve had in the past.”

Across-the-board returns this year for wheat, corn and other commodities is taking the pressure off of having to rely so heavily on cash crops such as onions and potatoes, Brent feels. The farming
outlook should be much improved, at least for the next few years. If there is not enough to do on the farm and in the packing shed, the family also operates two other side businesses: Big Bend Outfi tters.
org, an upland game bird hunting refuge, and Naturesvittles.com, an internet business selling squirrel corn. In addition to input from family members, the availability of good help has made it possible for us to handle all of our involvements, admits Brent.

“Rudy Miranda, our farm manager, has been a huge blessing and has been with us 13 years,” Brent says. “His efforts enable me to spend time both at the farm and at the packing shed. Alan Lovitt serves as production manager, Larry Mackay as field man, Kris Gibson as bookkeeper and Theresa Bond as transportation manager at Giant Produce. “We couldn’t do everything without them,” the couple acknowledge.

© 2007 Columbia Publishing

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