David Peri

Meet 3rd-generation family farmer David Peri. He inherited his family's passion for farming and expanded his family farm into a business operation now spanning two states. As a boy, David was more often cutting school to help his family in the fields, and he simply can't imagine life anywhere other than 'on the farm.'

 

AGE: 58

HOME TOWN: Yerington, Nevada

CURRENT RESIDENCE: Same

FARM NAME & LOCATION: Peri & Sons Farm, Yerington, Nevada

 


FAVORITES:

  • Music: Country primarily
  • Food: Pretty hard to beat a good steak
  • Drinks: I drink water the most
  • Blue Jeans: I wear Kuhl outdoor hiking type stuff every day. Cool for the summer.
  • Thing to do AFTER work: Go to the gym, trying to stay alive!
  • Mantra: Not really .... I joke to people to put your man pants on and go to work!

Does your family work on the farm with you?

My wife, Pam, runs the operational administrative division of the company. My son, DJ, works on the farm driving trucks and equipment. My daughter, Jessica, manages the onion sales team. My other daughter, Ami, works in accounts receivables plus other administrative departments.

Where is the farthest you have traveled to? Where would you like to go?

I don’t travel outside of the country often, but I’ve been to Alaska, Mexico, Singapore, Bali, Australia and Europe. Most travel is on the west coast between Nevada and California as we farm in both areas. Everyday I walk outside of our house in Yerington with the dogs, and feel like I live in heaven. We have a lake house and we’d like to get a winter place in San Diego, but there’s no big desire to travel around the world. Pretty nice spot we have here.

What is your attitude about money?

Money doesn’t drive me. It’s not the motivation for what we do. I wanted to quit school in the 6th grade to farm. Farming drives me. I love the challenge of growing crops.

I’m driven by the challenge of agriculture and what we’re doing in the vegetable business. We are the only one’s doing organic leafy greens and onions here. It’s not easy to do what we are doing in Nevada and I love the challenge of doing things that aren’t easy. It’s not about the money, it’s more about the accomplishment. Hiring good people to help us and paying them well for their contribution to our success is gratifying. Greed’s not a good thing. Something more than money needs to drive you in this life because it’s a short one. Whenever possible, we like to help kids too. If our success can help them be successful, then we want to help. That’s the kind of stuff that drives me.

How did you get into farming?

Grew up in it. I’m third generation. My grandfather landed in Nevada in 1912 and bought a ranch in Lockwood in 1918. He raised nine kids there. He died young, and my dad and uncle, who were identical twins, stayed on the farm and made it work. I grew up farming and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

How many acres is the farm?

We are farming 12,000 acres right now. About 8,000 acres of that is onions and leafy greens. It’s a year-round, 365-day farming operation.

What was the hardest part getting started?

The hardest part is that you have to borrow money. Thank God for my dad and uncle because they helped us out in the beginning. I had a partner for 25 years, but we bought him out in 2005. That learning curve was tough. Then there was the transition of going from a mom and pop farm to building a larger commercial farming operation including selling across the USA and exporting. When I grew up, we only sold locally, now we compete all over the world. Having the right quality of products and just figuring it all out was difficult and happened over many years. Lots of elements to learn – and then you throw in Mother Nature on top of it.

What surprised you about farming?

Nothing surprised me because I grew up doing it. I was driving tractors by age 11 and my Dad would write me a pass to get me out of school. My dad (and uncle) had to quit school in the 9th grade. All they knew was hard work. They were willing to work hard and the kids worked some too. I liked helping, so I saw the challenges of a small family farm. Now, we just see the challenges in a bigger way.

Tell us about your day on the farm.

We’re in bed by 9:00 pm and up about 4:30 am. Not that we want to wake up that early, it’s that the dogs want out!

Nowadays we have a hard-working team of loyal people to keep it all running well. For example, we have employees who’ve worked with us for over 30 years and they’re all in key management areas. In addition to the ground preparation team we have three agronomists on staff. We have an IT department and a food-safety department along with many others who work with me and the team that grows all of the onions and leafy greens.

Between the office, fields, vegetable cooler, onion sheds and shops, we have a whole lot of talented people working with us. Our CFO has been with us for years (she’s like a daughter) and we just hired another CPA.

Day-to-day it’s all about putting out fires and working with the management team?from the CFO to the shop foreman. When we first started, every operation from seed-to-plate, was hands on. Everything from signing the payables to fixing the tractors. So nowadays I understand what everyone in the operation is doing. I’m a jack of all, but master of none!

What makes you happy in a day on the farm?

When things are going well and crops are going well?no major issues?because we know we can make payroll. The farm is growing fast, so when people are all getting along, and when we see everyone in sync making things happen and helping each other...well, that’s just a major accomplishment that feels good. We’re all spokes of the wheel, so we all have to get along with each other. And, just like spokes, if one breaks we’ll have a problem. Happiness is everyone working together well.

What makes you frustrated?

When people don’t work together. Whether you’re in an office, or on the farm you should always come to work with a smile on your face ready to work with others. There’s NO excuse for bad attitudes and treating others poorly.

Also Mother Nature sure can be frustrating. Those weather events can screw you up! This is my 40th season farming since graduating high school, and over time, you become callused to weather events that you have no control over. Sometimes it’s depressing – like when a hail came through and took out our baby spinach. But you have to look at what’s ahead, not what just happened, because you can’t change it. I prefer to stay positive and focus on all the crops that are still growing and being harvested.

Any lessons learned on the farm?

There are hundreds of life lessons wherever you work and maybe especially on a farm. Farming can be dangerous. The most important thing is that even though we all have a job and a time line to get the job done, safety always comes first. Always take the safe way, not the fast way.

Growing organic vegetables is very labor intensive. Between cultivating, weeding, thinning, harvesting, packing and cooling there is a lot of big equipment, a lot of people and a lot of potential dangers. In season, we work around the clock?day and night. 24/7. We have to make sure that everyone is working safely and at full awareness every day. There just is always a lot going on.

What do you think a big misconception is about farming or farmers?

There were more misconceptions in the past than there are today. We’re doing a much better job on the food safety side of things now, and in letting the public know how diligently we’re working at it.

But the misperception that we’re not good stewards of land, that we’re raping the resources, land and water, or that we don’t care if farm inputs are bad for the kids is just not so. Yet there are still people who might think that.

The pesticides today don’t even resemble the pesticides from 30 years ago. We need to let the general public know that we must be the stewards of our own land and what we grow. Our family, friends and neighbors all eat the produce we grow. I don’t want our kids eating unsafe food any more than anyone else would.

99.99% of the farmers today (of course there’s always one bad apple) but 99.99% are EXTREMELY aware and sensitive to doing the absolute RIGHT thing and having the safest product that they could grow. Thirty years ago, we didn’t know how bad the chemicals were. It was used without respirators or gloves. We just didn’t know, but now this message needs to get out a lot more. Farmers have a stake in being stewards of the land. We have to be or we’ll destroy our own land, water and our living. And no one wants to do that!

Any advice to other farmers/ranchers?

You need patience to be in this business and don’t expect to get rich quick. Patience and Perseverance. Just work hard every day and roll with whatever comes your way. It’s a way of life that you have to love, to do it well.

Anything to say to people who aren’t farmers?

Appreciate the American Farmer. They’re doing a great job of growing affordable food for our families.

What concerns you the most about the future of farming?

Here in the west, the biggest challenge is fresh water. The state of California dumps millions of acre feet of water back into the ocean every year, based on politics. If the wrong environmentalists are at the helm, the cost of food is going to escalate quickly and average income people will have an even tougher time affording good, healthy food that’s grown in the U.S.

In the central valley of California the cost of water is challenging. There’s a lot of water in reservoirs but the priorities don’t always make sense. Often the environmental side is fighting with the agriculture side. But you can’t farm and grow food, at a price people can afford, without affordable water!

A farmer has to make a profit or he won't be able to stay in business. Minimum wage increases are going to have a big effect, especially on fruits and vegetables. Most likely it will eliminate a lot of family farms because they don’t have the economy of scale. More and more family farms will become corporate farms. We are becoming large enough to seem like a corporate farm, but we will always be a family farm.