Chad O’Brien - O'Brien Farms
Fuji, Gala, Granny, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Cripps Pink, KORU®, Cosmic Crisp®
Chad O’Brien of Prosser, Washington is carrying on the family legacy through land stewardship and progressive growing practices. Sitting in the O’Brien Farms office, which used to be the family farmhouse, Chad shares the story of how the orchards were established in the 1950’s and have been in his family for generations. His father, Craig is a well-respected industry member and community supporter. Together they produce apples, cherries and grapes in the nutrient rich soil of the Lower Yakima Valley. Chad received his business degree from Gonzaga University and travelled over to the urban side of the state where he met his wife, Michelle. With his kids growing up, they decided to move back to Prosser so they could experience life on the farm, where Chad learned many valuable lessons during his youth driving equipment and helping out in the orchards.
Chad has been involved in managing the orchards for 5 years since his return, utilizing his business acumen, early experience on the farm, and wisdom passed down from generation to generation.
“I’m always learning on the job, largely from my father. It’s really unique to have the opportunity.” Chad says, “It’s part of the family legacy and I’m extremely grateful to be given the opportunity.”
Choosing which varieties to grow is one of the most important and most challenging decision growers make. The O’Brien’s have a varietal makeup of mainly Fujis and Galas and have incorporated new varieties in as well. They have acreage of the new Washington variety, Cosmic Crisp®, which will be making its anticipated debut in the upcoming season. When deciding which varieties to grow Chad says, “the selection takes due diligence but at some point, it’s a leap of faith.” One of the obstacles apple growers face is everything requires long term strategy. Orchards cannot be changed out year to year like other crops. Planting or converting an orchard to a new variety takes years for fruit to produce and is capital intensive.
The orchards are treated with great care because it is not only their livelihood, it is part of the family history.
“There’s tradition in a family farm and lots of pride in that. But to be able to continue, you have to stay progressive and keep up in a competitive market.”
Chad and Craig take successful practices from experience and incorporate modern techniques to keep the family farm sustainable.
“We have to be as sustainable as possible with water supply and soil. It’s all interconnected,” Chad explains.
Integrated Pest Management, efficient water use, high-density planting structures, and variety renewal are all elements that the O’Brien’s have collectively managed in their orchards as part of their sustainability efforts.
It is clear Chad enjoys the unique opportunity of being able to learn from his father and manage the orchards together. There is open mindedness to try new techniques and wisdom to provide balance.
During the tour of the orchard, new plantings and mature orchards are visible using a variety of planting structures including v-trellis and single spindle. The rows went long into the distance, symbolic of the future of their orchards. The family farm is in good hands.