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Dennis Holbrook

INTERVIEWEE: Dennis Holbrook (DH)
DATE: March 1, 2000
LOCATION: Mission, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2093 and 2094

Please note that videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers indicate time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd, I am here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s March 1, year 2000 and we’re in Mission, Texas and we’re visiting with Dennis Holbrook who runs an organic agricultural operation down here and has been involved in promoting environmentally friendly agriculture in that sense for many year. And I wanted to thank you for spending some time to talk about that.
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DH: Thank you David. I appreciate the opportunity.
DT: Sure. I thought we might start by talking about some of your early days growing up in your family of running a family grove management business and how you might of first learned about the business and about some of these citrus related and vegetable related issues?
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DH: Okay, well my family moved here in 1955. My father was a farmer from another area in the county and moved here and began farming citrus and some vegetables. A dry land farming operation, primarily. And as I .. as a kid growing up, I had the opportunity to work on the farm. And so from the time, I guess, I was big enough to .. to be of some use I was always here. I enjoyed being on the farm. I enjoyed doing and being involved in agriculture. So it was .. it was kind of a fun thing for me. I really didn’t necessarily look at it as work until I got to be a teenager. Then it .. I think at that point in time I began to think that .. that there was something different about it. But my .. my father had a grove management company that actually managed citrus properties for our .. our own citrus that we owned and for absentee owners. The people who were investing in citrus
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who perhaps didn’t live in the area. So we had a .. a grove management company and a .. and a dry land farming operation, primarily at that time. I grew up in the business, all through high school, went off to college for .. for a while then came back and went into business with my dad. I bought him out of the business in 1977. It wasn’t until the early 80’s that I began to really start to .. to look at conventional growing methods and question whether we were going the right direction. And the reason why, and I’ll give you some background as to why I got to feeling that way, when I was a kid, like I said, when I first started out when I was probably 8 .. 9 .. 10 years old, the first job you have on the farm is .. is to irrigate, you know, ’cause you’re not running equipment and you’re not doing other things, so it’s a pretty simple, straight forward type of a job. And at that particular time, we weren’t using any kind of chemical weed control in our orchards. They were all done under mechanical cultivation. So you would irrigate and then you would, you know, the weeds would sprout and .. and the grass and so forth, and then you would just disk them and till them into the ground. And that would be a kind of natural form of green manuring. And that was probably during the early and maybe mid 60’s. But by .. by the time that the early 80’s came about, after I had bought the business, I began to notice that what we would normally consider, back in the 60’s, three to five year irrigations that was pretty a norm .. pretty much a norm. Very seldom did you ever irrigate more than four times. It had to be a serious drought condition to .. to really go into five irrigations. But by the early 80’s, we were up to 8 to10 irrigation just to make a crop. Didn’t really matter whether it was a .. a .. a drought condition or not. And?
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and I began to evaluate that, you know, the cost factor alone got to be substantial. ‘Cause your normal allocation only .. irrigation water allocation only is usually 3 to 4, 5 irritations a year. Once you exceed that, then you have to start buying additional allotments. So the cost got more expensive, and .. and so I got to looking at that .. at that real seriously. We did some soil analysis and we started evaluating what it was that .. that we thought may be a .. a part of the problem. And it became quite evident that, in our research, I had a .. a soil agronomist that .. that I had conferred with. And he happened to have some soil. He had a .. a soil lab here in the Valley for a number of years. And so he said, “Well, let me pull some samples, I mean, some .. some samples that I had documented back in the early 50’s and lets just do some comparisons to see what we find.” And basically what .. what the bottom line that came down to was is that because of the cultural practices that were used in the .. in the late 40’s and early 50’s where they were planting cover crops in the wintertime, such as clover and different things like that, they had built up a much higher or they had a much higher organic matter content in the soil at that time. Anywhere from 3 and .. 2 .. to 3 % organic matter. Well, my analysis in 1981 showed the highest organic matter content of any of my orchard that had been under chemical weed control for probably 10 to 15 years, at that point in time, were less than .. than a half of a percent it was point 4%. And the lowest that I had was a point 225. Well, that began to tell me something about what we were doing. And what we had elim .. by eliminating the competitive plant life that you do with chemical weed control, you also eliminate the .. the input of organic matter back into your soil. And there’s a conversion that organic matter goes through by virtue of .. of its decaying process that converts form organic matter to humus. And humus in the soil is
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nothing more than microscopic sponges. And they basically hold the water in suspension into the soil. And they’re also a food source for the microbial actively in the soil, earthworms and so forth. And what we had found is .. is that we had depleted that to such a low level that we had shutdown a lot of the natural life cycle in the soil by virtue of starving it out, not having enough there for it to feed on. So the next question for me was, once I determined that was the .. was a problem, was to how to get off the chemical merry-go-round.
DT: Maybe before you say how you got off of the chemical merry-go-round, you could explain why you decided to get on it in the first place? Why did you think herbicides would be a good idea?
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DH: Well, I .. I think it was the .. the .. the wave of the time, you know, it was the thing to do. You know, the chemical industry really was born out of the .. the chemical warfare of World War II. The technology was developed during the world .. the .. the wars to make chemicals and so after .. after the war was .. had ended there was more interest in developing this technology into seeing how it could potentially benefit mankind. And so that’s when you began to see a lot more chemicals in pesticides using for .. for .. for insecticide control, herbicides being developed for .. for weed and grass control, and things of that nature. The technology doesn’t necessarily .. isn’t .. wasn’t wrong. But it .. it .. what it created were some serious problems, I believe to .. to agriculture in the long run over the .. over a long period of time. A lot of people don’t realize that back in
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the early years of this particular industry in Texas, they had to spray very seldom for any kind of pest problems. But there was enough beneficial insect populations that can .. controlled most of the .. of the insects. The bad thing that happened in ’51, they had a serious freeze here. And there was thousands of acres of citrus that was been bulldozed out. And then it was converted over to cotton. And with cotton came the boll weevil and the bollworm and different things of that nature. And so there became an onslaught of chemicals to control those pest problems. And as it .. what it did was it .. it began to have a .. a telling effect on the beneficial insect populations that we had here in the Valley. Those pesticides in the environment eventually began to .. to kill off a lot of the beneficials. So anyway, but that, to answer your questions the .. the .. the reason we went to that was because that was kind of the way it was developed. It seemed to be cost saving methods. There .. there seemed to be, at the time that they promoted chemical weed control and so forth, it was a it .. it .. it was kind of, you know, promoted by the .. the industry. And-and so we kind of, like everyone else, followed suit.
DT: And the industry you’re speaking of, is that the agricultural industry or the chemical producers?
0:10:15 – 2093
DH: (talking over David) I think it was probably a comb .. yeah, I think it was a combination of both the agricultural industry by via the academia who makes recommendations to agriculture in addition to the chemical, the ag/chemical companies that were developing the products and .. and .. and had them on the market for sale.
DT: Were you in a land grant college?
0:10:37 – 2093
DH: I went to Texas A & I University, which is now Texas A & M. It’s part of .. been adopted into that. But it was a .. it was a .. yes, I guess it was a land grant college.
DT: Were they teaching chemically based conventional agriculture, or were they teaching more organic things?
0:10:51 – 2093
DH: (talking over David) Yes. No. No. At that particular time there was no .. there was no organic method type of agriculture taught in any of the ag schools. You know, you’re talking about back in the early 70’s. And at that time this was the .. this was a heyday of .. of a lot of the, you know, the chemical industry as far as agriculture was concerned. A lot of .. a lot of things were being developed that, you know, were .. were basically intended to .. to help and benefit, reduce the cost, you know, the imput cost of what agriculture was costing to produce.
DT: What was some of your professors telling you in those days?
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DH: Well, you know, that’s been a long time. So I can’t really tell you exactly what I remember. I do remember taking an ag soils class .. soil fertility class. And at that particular time I .. I had a professor who .. who indicated to me that .. that basically the only thing that you needed to impute into soils was nitrogen. And .. and I have a basic different philosophy in .. on what I, you know, I think that the soil and plants are like any other thing. They need a combination of many different kinds of nutrients in order to be able to be a healthy plant to grow and produce that all .. all that they can produce. And if you’re only putting down nitrogen, for example, that’s just like, to us, just feeding us nothing but beef and no vegetables or anything else. And so I brought that point up to him during class one time and I said, “You know, I .. I can’t believe that .. that it’s not important for the soil to be able to replenish, you know, the phosphorous, the the potash, all the micronutrients that are .. are .. are available to that plant. And, but that just wasn’t the style of teaching at the time. I mean, they have a .. a basic direction and, I guess, maybe in a lot of respects, at that time, maybe they really didn’t know a lot more about the situation. I think there’s been a lot of things that have been discovered in the last 10 years that have .. that have opened a lot of doors to new thoughts and new ways of .. of approaching soil fertility for example.
DT: What did the older farmers in the area think about the new chemical approaches to agriculture? What did your dad think?
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DH: Well, at the time, I mean, they were .. they were, you know, they were the experts. So, when you’re a grower out here and they’re telling you that you can reduce coats and improve yields it doesn’t .. doesn’t take much to get you to start thinking along those same lines.
DT: So in the early 70’s you had some supisions that this might not be the right way to go. And then towards the 80’s you were finding that some of the irrigation costs were going up. What other things that made you decided to go towards organic?
0:13:46 – 2093
DH: Well, actually there was .. that .. that was my primary reason for looking into beginning to.. ’cause at that time, I really didn’t know what organic was, per se. This was like in the early 80’s. Then Commissioner Hightower had been elected to office. There was a group within his department that were beginning to develop organic standards for Texas. And so it .. it kind of perked my interest. And I began to look at .. at what they were saying, what they were doing, and what they were trying to accomplish. And by virtue of the fact that I’m .. I’m very concerned about the environment, about .. about the kind of .. of soils that we have to work with. I want to make sure that, you know, that we don’t deplete the soils that we continue to rebuild them and make them so that future generations are going to be able to derive the same kinds of needs from that land as what we’re, you know, deriving from them right now. So all those things kind of being, you know, philosophically my way of thinking at it, I began looking at organics to see if .. if it was a possibility. I knew that with the way we were going that it wasn’t the right way primarily because, not only were we having increased costs in irrigations, but the fact that we had nothing to retain the water. Every time we fertilized, and we were have .. we used to fertilize once a year, back, like I said, back in the 60’s. But by the early 80’s we were having to fer .. usually we would have to irrigate, I mean fertilize about three times a year. Because we found that by fertilizing once, we
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were leaching so much of the fertilizers out with the repetitive irrigations that we had no fertility left and we really needed it at the end .. at the end of the season to really push and get that crop to mature out. So what we found what we needed to do was we need to break them down and put them in smaller increments. So we were having to fertilize more. We had more costs in applications because we were having to put them down twice as, you know .. you know, two additional applications. So all of those things became apparent that they were increasing the cost of production. You know, I decided that .. that .. that the direction we were heading was not the right way. And I wanted to look at another growing method. Organics became the logical growing method for me in what I philosophically felt we needed to do in our particular orchards. So, as I said, I .. I had that dilemma as to how to jump off this chemical merry-go-round. Well, December of 1983 we incurred a .. a major freeze, and that created the opportunity. I decided that I would take my orchards that I owned and I had one other customer .. client of mine that .. that I though, philosophically, would a line himself with this way of thinking. So I went and I approached him. I spoke to him about it, told him what I was thinking about doing, what I was planning to do with my own orchards and why. And he
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said, “You know, I trust you enough that .. that I will go with you on that.” So when we started out in 1984, I created Southtex Organics. And we began to rehabilitate those orchards that were frozen by the freeze and .. and replanting the trees that .. that were killed by the freeze. And we started out with sixty .. sixty-five acres of organic production. I kept very close tabs as to costs versus my organic growing method, and cost in my conventional growing method. Because I was still doing both. And the reason I was still doing both is because I when you’re in a grove management company, it’s like any other type of management business. Your customer, or your client is only interested in the bottom line. And not knowing what organics was going to do and what direction it would take us, I didn’t feel comfortable in trying to .. to sell anybody else on it before I could prove it to myself that it was a viable way of producing citrus, that it, you know, it was .. it was a possible thing to accomplish. So, I started doing that. We keep meticulous records. We have to by virtue of just the business we’re in .. in order to maintain records of .. of costs and so forth. But, we did that up until 1989. I started producing citrus organically in 1986. It took that many years after the ’83 freeze before we actually had any commercial production available. And so we began very small volume and kind of .. kind of grew into it. In 1989 we incurred our second 100-year
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freeze, just six years apart. At that point in time, I determined that, you know, it was co .. it was very evident to me, which was the right direction to go. I had production cost, I had yield return, you know, yields and the returns that we were able to accomplish by selling our organic product. And so I just kind of laid it out on the table for the remainder of my customers and told them, I said, “I’m going to go all organic. If you want to go with me and can me .. to continue to manage your .. your grove under that type of growing methods, I will be glad to do that. If not, then, you know, I need to recommend some other companies and you can go your .. your separate way.” And surprisingly we didn’t have too many. We had about .. well, you’ve got to realize too, after having two major freezes, six years apart, you don’t have a whole lot of investors left. Most of the people .. well the industry is, to give you an idea, in 1983, prior to the freeze, there was approximately 70,000 acres of citrus in the Rio Grande Valley. Now, after going through the both freezes, having a lot of acreage bulldozed out, replanted and so forth, we have probably somewhere between 20 and 25 thousand acres remaining in citrus in the Valley. So you can see there’s been a lot of people who have gotten out of the industry. What we did at that time, in ’89, I said I am going totally organic. The customers who felt like that I .. that they could go that way and .. and still have a return in their investment, joined forces with .. with me and my .. my own acreage. The rest of them, you know, went with different companies.
DT: Could you explain the financial pitch you made to them? Did you compare the costs and yields you’ve got under the old chemical conventional agriculture versus the new organic techniques?
0:20:32 – 2093
DH: (talking over David) Right. Right. And to really .. to be honest with you, the initial years of going organic were a .. were a little tough. Because your .. your trees are .. are used to be fed a artificial source of nitrogen, okay, a chemically produced nitrogen. When you pull them off of that, and you go to a natural form, being compost, manure, things of that nature, the tree doesn’t get the same .. it’s not geared up to take that. Because the environment in the soil is changing. So there is a transition period of time where it takes a little bit of a toll as far as what your yield are, what your production is. So, you know, we showed them that. We .. we wanted I, you know, it was all totally up front. I’m saying, “You know, you’re going to see a little dip for a couple of years until we get these groves back into a .. a more consistent natural cycle of environment within the soil. And once we get it there you’re going to see your yields, you know, basically the same as what conventional yields are.” And we haven’t, you know, I’m going to be honest with you, we haven’t reached that same level. We’re about 85 to 90% of that level. But I’ve just, this year, hired a nutritional consultant to help me to develop more .. more of a natural foliar feeds where we can apply some of the micronutrients that are not as easily up-taken through the root system, to be able to develop a kind of a foliar spray for organics, that we feel will help us, you know, get to that same level. But in ’89, I basically told them, you know, “This is your production costs. This is our production cost, being growing organically. These are what your yields have been; this is what our yields have been. This is the .. the price per ton we’ve been able to acquire or .. or accomplish by .. by selling organically. And this is the conventional market.” And, you know, it was’I think it was a pretty good sale, personally. I .. I think a lot of people really looked at it very closely. But, you know, I also explained to them, that I said,
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“We’re going to a very different kind of growing method. Instead of not promoting weed growth conventionally, we are going to be doing everything we can to promote organic matter in that soil. So we’re going to be trying to bring back weeds and, you know, do all that stuff and then we’ll slowly till them in, or we’ll go through a mowing system where we build .. use that weed residue to build mulch on the soil.” You know, and .. and a lot of people just couldn’t .. couldn’t quite grasp that. They were used to being able to go out and look at their orchards and being, you know, basically being weed free, where you could almost, you know, eat right off of the soil. And .. and that just wasn’t the type of, you know, going .. deviating from that just wasn’t something they could comprehend. And so, at that point, you know, we lost a percentage of our grower to other people. But we continued to build our operation. We started out, like I said, in 1983 or1984 with 65 acres and .. and we’ve got 100 acres in our program .. I mean 400 acres in our program now.
DT: Can you tell how the cost compares between conventional agriculture and organic agriculture?
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DH: Well?
DT: Is it cheaper or more expensive?
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DH: It’s .. it’s pretty much, I think at this point and time now, I think we have learned enough about growing organically that we can actually produce production at .. at a less cost. And .. and I say that with some .. some skepticism, because I haven’t .. I’ve been out of the conventional market so long, I don’t really know what their costs of .. of growing is now. I know what are cost of growing is. And I’m thinking we’re pretty .. pretty close, if not maybe .. and I think it varies from grove to grove. You know, some groves requires more .. more inputs and a little more attention than other groves. And as a result, you have a little higher cost in those groves than you do in .. in others. So, you know, to .. it would be unfair for me to say, because I’ve been out of the business for so many years, conventionally, I really have no idea what their growing costs are. But I would say we’re probably pretty close. And maybe, you know, when we first initially started we had much higher growing costs. Because we .. we were learning a lot about how to do it, and how to do it efficiently. What kind of inputs we were having to use in order to .. to get the kind of levels of production that we wanted to get. And .. and so, you know, we .. we had definitely a learning curve involved. And so .. but I think we’ve that, that curved has leveled off and .. and I think that we are pretty consistently in line with what normal production costs would be for conventional groves.
DT: Is there kinds of costs changed? Do you go from more inputs that are related to machinery and chemicals, or more that are more labor related?
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DH: Yeah. Most of it, initially, is labor related because by the .. by virtue of the fact that you are not controlling anything with chemicals, especially, you know, your weeds. You’ve got a lot more mechanical costs involved. You’ve got more hand labor involved. So yeah, you’re .. you’re .. you’re looking at some .. some pretty hefty costs, in labor. Other areas, probably irrigations, we’re saving some money there. Because we’re not irrigating 8 to 10 times a year. We’re back now, on our groves, irrigating 4 or 5 irrigations a year. So we basically have cut the irrigation cost in half. And so that’s been a .. a cost savings to us.
DT: How about the pest losses? Have they changed much when you went from conventional to organic?
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DH: Like with anything else I, you know, I say there’s a learning curve. We had a few years where we .. we had to learn what to be able to do, and when to do it. Most conventional operations spray .. spray by calendar. You know, they say, “Okay, you know, it’s .. it’s .. it’s March. It’s time to put post-bloom spray on.” And, you know, and .. it’s just done by calendar. Where we don’t have .. I have an entomologist, or a soil, I mean a .. a consultant that works with me. And he’s in our groves about every two weeks. And so we monitor our populations continuously. And that way it’s probably a little more efficient for us because we only spray if we need to control certain pests. That’s the only time we actually go to that expense. And we do is go through a foliar feeding program with our citrus. And what we do is, primarily, if we .. if we show a pest population that has escalated on us and we need to have control measures .. measures taken, then we’ll usually include whatever it is that we are going to use to control that in with a .. a normal foliar spray, so we can, kind of, control it in that respect.
DT: I wanted to ask you how the prices have compared between the conventional methods of before and now the organic methods?
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DH: We actually get a .. a premium over what conventional products sells for. And .. and that’s all relative to probably to the amount of input costs that we have to put into it. You know, when you don’t if you’re not producing 100% of .. of equivalent to what they are, when you look at those costs factors of production, and the fact that your production may be lower, you know, you need to have a little bit of additional return in order to be able to .. to justify growing organically and .. and being in the business, as far as trying to make a profit to stay in business.
DT: Maybe you can tell us the whole marketing end of this. How have your customers reacted to your organic produce as opposed to the conventional?
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DH: Well, when we first got into it, we only .. the first year that we sold product, we sold it primarily just to one .. to one distributor which was Texas Health Distributors in Austin, which is the distribution chain for the Whole Foods Markets here in Texas. And we basically sold them everything we had. But we had already sold some of our additional .. our organic orchards on the conventional market that year. And just retained out one orchard to sell to the .. to the organic channel, because we weren’t real sure where that was going to take us. And we didn’t really have a lot of .. of outlets for the .. for our product. We didn’t really know, you know, you’ve got to take into consideration this was in 1986. And .. and organics, at that point, wasn’t nearly as available and .. and out in the open as it is right now. It was almost kind of like somewhat of an underground community to be able to find who dealt in organics and .. and who didn’t. See now a days you can go to any industry trade magazine and you can find the cross over. You can find those who have only been in organic, who have kind of become mainstream. And then you also find those conventional suppliers who don’t want to miss out on the in .. rapid growth and increase in the .. in the .. in the market demand for organics either. So they do both. So, but at that particular time we had one outlet that first season. The rest of the fruits, there was still .. we were still recovering from the freeze. And so there was a .. a very high demand for product and there was low supply. So we were able to get pretty good price for our products at that time. But I knew that the following year that we were going to need to find some additional outlets. Because we were going to go with all of the acreage that we had instead of .. of just putting down or just selling part of it conventionally and part of it organically. At the time, we had Mary McKeaver(?) who was the Executive Manager of Texas Wheat, which is the advertising agency for Texas. And I conferred with her a lot about, you know, marketing and about organics; although,
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she had zero experience in marketing organics. Her advice was to .. to go to California. To try and find some people in California where, because that was where the organic industry was the .. the strongest and had the most demand. So I, you know, I kind of had this David and Goliath kind of mentality about this whole deal. But, she gave me an article that had been written in a .. in a trade magazine, citrus called .. well, it’s a produce industry magazine, its called the .. the Packer. And on the front page there was this company in California that were basically being promoted as the largest organic distributor in the United States. And at that point and time I, you know, was a little apprehensive but I felt, oh, you know, what the heck. So what I did was I went ahead and contacted them by phone and told them, you know, who I was what, we were doing. And we were looking for someone in California to .. to help be a distributor for us out there. And the .. the side bar to that is .. is that I had happened to obtain a list of organic suppliers in California the week before. And I had shipped out about 10 sample boxes of our product to different companies, none of them being this particular company. And so when I called him on Tuesday morning, I had shipped those boxes on Thursday, the previous week. So .. and he just kind of, you know, what I really expected, he just kind of blew us .. blew me off. He just kind of said, “Hey, you know, California is where it’s at. This is where all the product is. And we’re shipping it to other places. We’re not bring it in.” So I said, well, you know, I understood and I appreciated his time. And that was the end of the conversation. Well, Wednesday and Thursday those boxes started hitting those particular distributors. And I had put a cover letter inside explaining who we were, you know, that this was a sample of the .. of the great fruit and orange products that we were growing in Texas. And if they, you know, liked it and wanted to .. to handle it in California, that, you know, to .. to either let me know directly or .. or if they had a large distributor that they were purchasing from to contact them. Well, Friday morning, I got a phone call from this same company that I had talked to on Tuesday saying that they had gotten a lot of phone calls, you know, and so forth and so on, and .. and that they wanted to be my distributor in California. And so that’s where it kind of took off and went. And from there, I’d made contacts with some people on the East Coast. And so I
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was the first organic grower in the state of Texas that was shipping truckload volumes to both the East and West Coast. So that was kind of a .. a neat experience as we began to grow in the industry. One of the advantages that probably helped me in .. in making inroads into the organic industry fairly quickly was not only that we raised a good product that everybody wanted, but because we are located in a three county area that is controlled by federal marketing order, I had to meet all the same grade, size and standard requirements that any conventional packing shed had to meet. And so we .. we put out a very quality pack of fruit. And in some respects in was a much higher quality than what most of the distributors had been receiving from organic growers in other areas. So, that helped us a lot in getting .. making a name for our .. our company as being a high quality produce company in organics.
DT: I understand that, later on, you developed a mail order business with direct contact with the retail trade?
0:35:15 – 2093
DH: Actually I have to attribute that to my wife. It .. we .. we had an opportunity to be one of the sponsors of a local women’s professional tennis tournament here. And so instead of giving roses like they normally do I asked them if I couldn’t put together a fruit basket for the winners. And, you know, they said great. And we had also, as part of our sponsorship, we had also provided fresh orange juice that we had squeezed and taken down and was given to all the athletes. And .. and so I very rapidly got the nickname “Mr. Orange Man.” So, so anyway when we .. when we gave the gift baskets the winners of the tournaments were .. were very appreciative. They said, “normally, you know, we go back to the hotel and we just leave the roses there.” But, she says, “I can guarantee you, these are going to go with us when we leave because the fruit is just excellent.” Well, that gave us a little bit of exposure to local markets. And so the next thing we knew the following Christmas we had several of the .. of the women who played tennis with my wife who were doctors’ wives and so forth, wanting gift baskets made up for local people here in .. in and around our area. And in the interim, we had also been going to some trade shows; Eco Fair in Austin and .. and some different shows around the state. And we had started a sign up list of people who were interested in getting mail order. And so that’s how it was created, by virtue of somewhat of her effort getting it started. So, I have to attribute all of that to Linda. Now, since then it is .. we’ve taken it to another step. We’ve .. we’ve advertised in an organic gardening magazine and Vegelife. We had a .. a feature article in Texas Highway magazine that helped a lot in .. in .. in Texas in gaining a lot of notoriety and a lot of interest in what we do. So yeah, that’s .. that has continued to grow and expand and .. and it’s a growing part
of our business. In addition to that, we’ve also made efforts to .. to start going export with our products. We’ve shipped to Japan and into .. into Holland and England and .. and, but our largest export market right now is Canada.
DT: I understand that you also branched out from citrus into other kinds of organic produce. Are those businesses different from citrus?
0:37:46 – 2093
DH: Well, not so much. I didn’t have a lot of experience in growing vegetables. But a lot of my customers were saying, you know, you’re growing oranges and grapefruit down there. What else can you grow? And I realized that it probably would enhance my opportunity to expand my .. my own market with citrus if I had some companion products to go along with it. You know, when a grower .. when a buyer is looking for product and sourcing it, it’s a lot easier for him to pick up one phone call or .. or pick up the phone and call one .. one supplier say, “Hey, I need so many cartons of grapefruit, oranges, carrots,” you know, whatever it may be, and to be able to have it all done with one .. one phone call. So, we decided to, in 1989, the year we had our second freeze that we would start to growing some vegetables. So we started growing carrots and .. and onions that first year. And then after the freeze, we didn’t have any citrus production for a couple of years so that enabled us to really delve in to the vegetable market and learn and grow a lot of different things. And we experimented with a lot of different commodities. We grew broccoli and cauliflower. We grew all of the salad mix
0:38:59 – 2093
components. And we did a lot of those things for-for a couple of years while we didn’t have the citrus production. But when the citrus production came back, a lot of those kind of interfered with our being .. our being able to pack and .. and .. and do all of the same things at the same time. So we .. we then decided what commodities we were going to grow as far as vegetables were concerned. So we basically limited it to carrots and celery, onions, red potatoes, honey dew and watermelon. So that’s pretty much the .. the additional commodity lines that we grow, other than just oranges and grapefruit.
DT: And is it pretty much the same technique of trying to improve the soil and avoid some of the chemicals?
0:39:47 – 2093
DH: No question about it. We, you know, there was a .. there was a pretty good learning curve involved in .. in that aspect of growing vegetables. I .. I really didn’t have a lot of experience in .. in row-crop. Most of my row-crop was in, you know, grain and cotton dry land. And that’s a whole different area of growing row-crop. So, first thing I did when I planted the onions, I borrowed a planter from a friend of mine who was a conventional grower. And we went out and .. and started planting and we .. he puts four beds, for four rows on a bed of onions. And, of course, they use herbicides and different things like that to control the weeds. Well, when we .. when we irrigated and we got the onions up, all of a sudden we had weeds too. And we didn’t have enough area there to
0:40:37 – 2093
run a cultivator through. Four rows of onions on a 20-inch bed. So we had to learn something real quick as to what we were going to do. So, we found out we just had to basically cultivate out the two center rows and keep the outside two rows. And .. and that’s .. that’s one of the little learning things that we had to go through, is trying to figure .. you have to in .. in organics, to be successful, you really have to anticipate problems before they happen. Because if you .. if you have a .. a disease problem and you’re not anticipating that potential happening, you’re not doing the right kind of things to fortify your plants to keep them as healthy as possible so that they have their own natural resistance. So, in organics, you have to be .. you can’t be a lazy farmer and be successful. You can’t be dependent upon chemicals to do a lot of the .. the .. the work for you. You have to .. you have to be actively involved. You have to monitor your plants. You have to do a lot of things that are .. that .. in order to stay on top of it. And anticipate what your problems maybe, or potentially may be and take control measures to .. to prevent them from happening.
DT: Do you use many beneficial insects?
0:41:51 – 2093
DH: We do. We .. when we first got started in growing row-crop, especially in .. our first crop .. one of the first crops was watermelons. And we had an outbreak of aphids that .. that came in through our field and, fortunately for us at that time, we had someone just up north of us a little ways in Mathis, Texas that had an insectary, that was actually producing beneficial insects. And so, I made a call up there to his office. And it turns out, he happened to be here in the Valley with .. on a sales call that .. that day. So I was able to get a hold of him on his mobile phone and he came out. And, we went out and he had .. he had beneficial with him. And we went out and made a release in that field. And, you know, it was amazing. Within two weeks, you couldn’t find any kind of aphids in that field. The beneficials just basically controlled it. And so, that made me a real believer in beneficials. And so what we’ve done over the years is that we’ve actually tried to enhance habitats in and around our fields to–to actually draw the beneficials there, keep them there. So, as we grow product and .. and we may have a problem with certain types of pests, you know, migrating into the field we’ve got .. we’ve got some beneficals that are harboring close by that can to kind of help control and take care of things.
DT: Do you use Bt?
0:43:19 – 2093
DH: The only time we used Bt is when we were growing broccoli and cauliflower. But we haven’t used Bts for a long, long time. ‘Cause we .. of course, we don’t grow broccoli and cauliflower anymore either. But that was the only time that we really utilized any kind of Bts, was .. was growing those particular cold crops.
DT: Do you rotate crops often?
0:43:43 ? 93
DH: Annually. We never follow-up the same crop in any field, other than citrus, of course, you .. you can’t rotate those. But all of our vegetables are rotated annually.
DT: Where did you learn to do this? Was much of it trial and error or were there people in the Universities, or the agriculture extension, or the government that has helped you?
0:44:03 – 2093
DH: I haven’t really been able to get any .. any assistance or much information from the extension service or, you know .. just probably within the last couple of years, we’ve begin to see a change at Texas A & M, for example. They’ve actually got a course study on organic growing methods. And but, you know, I .. I had contacted the extension service when I first got into this, trying to find some information. And .. and I called them up and I said, you know, “I’m looking for, you know, information on .. on organic growing methods.” And the guy basically just blew me off and said they’re .. they didn’t have any. And I said, “Well let’s .. let’s .. let’s analyze that statement.” And I said, “You know, A & M has been in existence for a long time and if you went back and could resurrected, out of the archives, growing methods and practices that were being promoted by the university back during the 30 and 40’s, they would basically be organic growing methods.” And, I never could get any response from them as far as anything. So most of my education in organics is what I’ve learned as a conventional farmer, educated through .. through .. through the school system there, through the A & I. And converting that or re-thinking the process as to, what we can do to grow organically. And, you know, conversing with other organic growers. I have some friends in California that I’ve .. I’ve spoken to and .. and kind of shared ideas with and them with me. And so that’s kind of where it’s all evol .. all evolved. It’s mostly been self-taught or whatever I could learn from trial and error.
DT: Could you talk about some of the errors, some of the things that went wrong and maybe some of the things that were successful in your learning?
0:45:59 – 2093
DH: Yeah, well, you know, you try and forget about the errors. You don’t try to remember those. That’s an interesting .. interesting thought.
0:46:18 – 2093
DH: Some of the probably bad experiences that we’ve had probably been not so much in controlling weeds or controlling the pests. We’ve had problems where we’ve had fungus or disease problems that .. that have wiped us out on .. on a particular crop. And those things you just have to expect. I mean, those even happen to conventional growers who have all kinds of products available to them to control those things. We had one year we grew some just last year we grew some celery that we got a disease problem in the celery and we just couldn’t control it. And we eventually eventually ended up abandoning the field. But most of our .. our mistakes, if you will, are .. have been caused by factors beyond our control. We had one year we grew some onions that were absolutely beautiful onions. One of the best fields that we had ever produced. And we ended up having to disk them up because the .. there was a glut of onions during that season and the price was so low that it didn’t justify going in a putting additional cost in .. in harvesting the product. So we just .. I made the decision that, you know, I wasn’t going to put any more money into it, so we just basically abandoned the field. But .. but .. but our .. our failures have been very few. And we’ve been very grateful for that. Most of the .. most of the things that we’ve done we’ve .. we’ve managed to be relatively successful. It doesn’t necessarily mean that, you know, it’s been the best but, you know, we’ve managed to do .. do fairly well. Keep our heads above water.
DT: You said you also learned the organic ag from other organic farmers. Can you talk a little bit about the network with farmers that you have?
0:48:08 – 2093
DH: Well, when I first got started in Texas, there wasn’t very many. So most of the people that I .. that I had to find, you know, find information of .. from there was, there was primarily two in Texas that I .. that I compared notes with. One of them was .. is quite renowned in Texas as a, kind of, an organic guru. And that’s Malcolm Beck in San Antonio. And I went and talked and when I decided I was going to do this, I .. I drove up to Malcolm’s place of business there in Gardenville, where he was at that time, really kind of out of it organic production. But he was, as far as fruits and vegetable were concerned, but he primarily was doing commercial composting, organic composting, or organic soil amenities, things like that. And so I spent some time talking with him as to, you know, what was the best way to try and .. and re .. rebuild my soil the quickest. How can I get them to recover? And he went through a couple of different scenarios basically, “You know, you can if you want to spend money on it, you know, and throw a lot of money into it you can go out and buy the inputs and .. and .. and do it that way. And that’s probably the, you know, quickest way to do it but it is also the most costly.” Or, he says, “You can take it and do, you know, the other extreme. And that’s just by starting and .. and planting the right type of cover crops, the right type of plants that you can use to rebuild your soil.” And he says, “That .. that takes .. that’s the longest way of doing it.” You know, he .. he had been successful in .. in basically resurrecting two farms that had just been farmed to death. And both of them took him like five to seven years to .. to rebuild the soils before they were really productive again. So, you know, five to seven years wasn’t a viable option for us. We felt like it was something we needed to get quicker than that. But we didn’t have the .. the capital to just .. just go in and start, you know, throwing lots of money into it and doing it real quickly. So we kind of made a plan to go utilizing both .. both ways. So we .. we did some inputs and then we began to try and .. and do what we could with what was available to us. You know, as for like as far as like building compost and mulch. One of the cities here, close to us, has a grinding operation. And they take all of their leaves and tree prunings and things like that, that are all-biodegradable and bring them in and grind them up and make mulch out of them. So I had an agreement with them that I could, you know, come over and .. and basically I could get all the mulch I .. I wanted. I just had my own hauling costs
0:50:53 – 2093
involved but mulch itself was free. And then I .. I was able to locate a couple of sources of manure. And then I basically had minimal cost in those. Basically the majority of the cost was .. was freight, having it hauled to me. But we began using those .. those two sources really to build our compost and started our .. our own composting operation.
DT: Do you ever use a municipal sludge?
0:51:22 – 2093
DH: No. No that’s not approved under Texas organic standards. It’s a .. you cannot use sewage sludge. So we never .. we did do .. do some .. some .. some experimentings with a .. with the City of Mission. They had .. they were .. the City of Mission, where I live has no major industry, so there is no heavy metal pollutants. Our industry in our city is tourist. In the winter time the population of our community more than doubles. So we have a .. a real high demand for, you know, for sewage .. sewage use, I guess, basically to get rid of it. And so they had approached me, the city manager had approached me about, you know, taking a look at this. And so they had gone into a process of doing composting of sewage sludge. And we were doing soil tests on it. We invested some money into doing this test with them. And, you know, got permits from the Health Department, the Texas Health Department .. Health Department, and there was one other department or agency in Texas that .. that had to have some approvals. And I can’t remember who now.
0:52:35 – 2093
DH: I beg your pardon?
DT: The Water Commission?
0:52:37 – 2093
DH: It could have been. I re .. really don’t remember. And then .. then the last approval that we were going to have to get was going to have to be TDA’s approval. And the .. the .. it was approved for using it on like golf courses, city parks, things like that. But where you were going to be utilizing it for any kind of food production, they wouldn’t .. they wouldn’t go along with it. Even though we had documented by composting the .. the product was pathogen free and so forth. But there just, there is a resistance within the organic industry not to accept human waste of any kind. So .. so we never had to use that. So our fertility use is basically through using our own composting our own .. our own products. We take a lot of the coals that come out of our .. our plants and .. and convert those back into our composting operation in addition to?
DT: The inputs, you said you brought some in?
0:53:37 – 2093
DH: Yeah, we bring in manure from a .. from a feed lot here in Texas, about probably about 35 miles away from us. And we use that as a manure source. And then we .. we get mulch from the city from McAllen. We have some other sources that we utilize. You know, some stable trash from some people who are raising horses and things of that nature. So we are able to kind of pick up whatever we can and make compost for our .. our operation.
DT: We talked a little bit about government involvement in this. Can you talk a little bit about the process of getting certified, what you had to show?
0:54:22 – 2093
DH: Sure. All of our properties are certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture. There is .. it .. it’s a lengthy process. There’s .. there’s a number of pages of regulations that you have to be familiar with, in order to .. to go through that process, to begin it. It’s not something that’s insurmountable. I mean, it’s something that .. that you need to have in order to be able to document what you have and to maintain integrity in the products that we grow, and integrity in the product .. in the .. in the program itself. All of your land has to be chemically free for three years before it can be certified. That means no pesticides, synthetic pesticides, herbicides; fertilizers of any kind can be applied to that property for a three-year period of time. They require a soil analysis so that you have a starting point as to what you’re doing in your organic operation to rebuild and to replenish the soil. It can’t be organic by neglect, in other words. You have to be making an effort to .. to enrich and to fortify the soils and keep it in a very fertile state. So you’ve got to be able to document that. You document all inputs that you do, whether it’s on farm or off farm. You document, you know, what you’re growing. They want to know what .. what commodities are being grown on what fields. They .. they want production some type of production records so that they can determine what kind of yields that
0:56:12 – 2093
you’re having. Whether you’re making process and increasing your yields. They .. they also .. there’s an extensive record keeping process involved so that .. that .. that is required and you have to be able to maintain a paper trail. For example, on this particular box of fruit right here, TDA expects me to be able to, through my records process, to be able to when it gets shipped to say Seattle Washington, if there’s a problem they want to be able to be .. to trace that pro .. this box of fruit all the way back to what field it was harvested from. And we have many fields that we harvest from. So we have an extensive paperwork trail that’s required through .. through TDA’s certification process. This facility that we’re in is also certified as an organic certifi-certified distribution center. So there’s a certain process involved that .. that it .. it is certified. Since we only do organic here it’s .. it’s relatively simple. If you .. if we were doing both conventional product and organic product, then it becomes .. the system becomes much more extensive. Because you have to demonstrate your ability to keep products segregated so that there is no potential commingling. That’s .. that’s one of the reasons why production plants like we have as far as packing facilities are not commingling product. Because you have to be able to wash down, you know, all of your equipment before you go from one to the other and so that there is not potential contamination of .. of pesticides on any organic product. So, you know, for us it’s relatively simple because we only do organics here. We do nothing else, so.
DT: Maybe we can segue in talking about some of your public service. I understood that you were involved in actually developing some of these organic requirements when you served on Texas Organic Certification Board.
0:58:20 – 2093
DH: Yes. I was .. I was one of the charter members for the Texas Organic Growers Association and helped to formulate that organization. It started out originally in a co-op format. We, through the help of TDA, at the time, we had decided that, that may be a .. a viable way or for growers in Texas to, you know, collaborate with one other and bring product, and consolidate product together. But by virtue of the size of the state of Texas, and we have varying climates from one end of the state to the other. In distance itself, became a point where we realized that, that wasn’t going to be a really feasible way to .. feasible venue for us to .. to collectively work together as growers. But we .. we still felt a need to have a networking and an education process. And so we reorganized TOGA into more of a educational growers association. So that we had opportunity to coordinate efforts, as much as we could, with different growers around the state. We .. we’ve had, through our state meetings, we’ve had seminars where we told people, you know, how to package products. You know, pre and post harvest handling of the products. Where to obtain packaging and how to, you know, how to .. how to find out what the standards are within the industry so that they can comply with that. So it’s been more of an education process more than it has been kind of an association of bring product together. Just
1:00:13 – 2093
recently the immediate board has been conversing through e-mail to try and come up with a .. a way of putting a consolidation point together where growers can bring or can ship product that they are growing to one central local, where it can be kind of distributed amongst the people who we’re selling product in and around the state or even outside of the state. So that was one thing that I was involved in and continue to be involved in. I .. I was fortunate enough because of my interest and .. and willingness to .. to take an active part in the industry and its infancy. I was appointed by Commissioner Hightower to serve on the Organic Advisory Board that helped to put the .. the state certification program together. And to continue to monitor changes that may need to .. to be made in that program. And since then I’ve .. I’ve maintained that seat on that particular board, re-appointed by Commissioner Perry and also by Commissioner Combs. We also started during Commissioner Perry’s time in office a Organic Marketing Advisory Board. We felt that .. that it was very necessary that we solicit the assistance of the marketing department in .. in TDA to help promote and market organic product. Primarily too not only for .. for the fruit and vegetable part of the thing, but organic cotton became a .. a .. a real popular item. And it was something that probably took off and grew quicker than any other area of the organic industry. And there is thousands of acres of organic cotton growing in Texas today. And that industry is continuing to grow. And it’s, you know, it was .. it brought, I think, organics to the fore front in a lot of peoples eyes when they started realizing the importance and the potential in the organic fiber market, not only in the United States but in Europe there’s a .. there’s a very high demand for .. for organic cotton. So, all of those things kind of coming together at the same time was .. enabled us to establish that Organic Marketing Advisory Board.
End of Reel # 2093
DT: We were talking just a moment ago about organic cotton, which has really taken off in Texas and elsewhere. I understand that there’s also still a real viable conventional business in cotton and that sometimes the two bump up against one another and compete and have problems and conflicts, such as over the use of malathion. Can you talk about some of those issues?
0:01:58 – 2094
DH: What is first hand to me is the .. in Texas we always have the potential for a outbreak of the Mexican fruit fly, which then puts our area under quarantine so that and we cannot ship citrus to any other citrus producing state unless the fruit is fumigated. So California being one of our markets, when we have an outbreak, then we lose that as a potential outlet for our products. Last, I guess, it was two years ago, they decided that they were going to take an area of the Valley and put it under a blanket malathion spray program to try and control the Mexican fruit fly. As it turned out I had two orchards that was in this geographical region. And so they came and they personally contacted me because they realized that by spraying malathion over my property, that I would in essence lose my certification, because it would have been contaminated. So in explaining that situation to them and then also telling them that there would need to be financial compensation for that if, in the event they .. they did do that. They then determined that it was probably a better idea to put a one-mile buffer zone around my two orchards. And so none of those areas were sprayed. I really don’t know, this was a test program that they were putting together, so I really don’t know whether it was successful enough to whether they wanted to continue to maintain that type of program. But I know that the cotton organic .. cotton growers right now are really under a bad situation in that respect. Because of the boll weevil eradication program that they’re trying to implement in west Texas where they’re growing with total blanket sprays malathion to control it. They tried that same thing here, in the Valley about, I guess it has been four or five years ago. And what it resulted in was total disaster. They sprayed malathion on a lot of the prod .. producing area of cotton, which are not necessarily, in most cases, they are not in the same areas there were citrus or vegetables are grown. But what they found was .. is that annihilated the beneficial population by spraying the malathion. And as a result they had outbreaks of Army .. Army Worms, that just totally devastated the crops. I mean, just totally just ate them down to just nothing but sticks. And they took immediate action the following year to eliminate that boll weevil ratification program for this particular growing region. They just .. they bailed out of the program. ‘Cause they saw what kind of devastating effects that .. that .. that they thought was directly related to the fact that they had knocked out so many beneficial insects that would have predators to those particular pests that ultimately just .. just took over.
DT: You’ve been in the organic ag business for almost 15 years now I guess?
0:05:29 – 2094
DH: Almost sixteen.
DT: Sixteen years. Can you sort of take the big picture and tell us maybe how things have changed in organic ag and agriculture in general and where you think you are going?
0:05:41 – 2094
DH: Well for me it .. I .. I consider myself fortunate that .. that, you know, that I was inspired to look at organics as an alternative. I don’t want to consider myself to being so smart that I did this on my own. I probably was divinely inspired to .. to really pursue this and look at as an alternative. Because I could see where we were going, the direction we were going in. I just didn’t feel like it would be a continually economically viable way of producing. And it has been a struggle for the conventional growers over the years. They’ve had more lean years than they’ve had good years. And so I got into the organics by virtue of .. of thinking that there had to be a better way. One, it was better for the environment. One that would be better for the long term of my land, the viability, its production and that I would have something that .. that I know or I .. I .. I would know that when I passed it on to my kids, that they too would have something that would be healthy and which to work from. The organic industry, as far as agriculture, has probably only been the bright star for the last 10 years. Since 1990, organic production dollar-volume sales have increased a minimum of 20% a year, for the last 10 years. It was originally looked upon as a specialty market, you know, a niche. But I can honestly say that with passing time, as I’ve seen it go by, that organics is more mainstream everyday and we will continue to .. to be so. It offers the buying public a choice. And when there is as much concern as there is about what’s being consumed, it’s something that people pay more attention to and become more interested in. And I honestly believe, I mean, it’s not something that I can probably prove to you scientifically, but I’ve done this experiment with many different people. I can take an organically grown grapefruit or orange or piece of fruit and compare it to a conventional, and there is somewhat of a taste difference. I .. I con .. I consider the truck drivers to be the connoisseurs of produce. And the reason I say that is they don’t go anywhere, to any packing shed that they don’t get a little sample of what’s being packaged. And I’ve had more truck drivers tell me on return trips that they were really glad they got this order here because I have the best tasting oranges and the best tasting grapefruit of any other packing shed in the Valley. And that’s all subjective but that’s, you know, that’s what they’re telling me. And .. and I believe it.
DT: Do you think it that it’s healthier?
0:09:03 – 2094
DH: Well, you know, healthier is whether it’s got more nutrients than conventional, you know, I can’t say it does. But I can tell you that you can take the risk factor out of not knowing, or knowing what hasn’t been put on that product, as versus what may have been put on something conventionally grown.
DT: Maybe we could back up and talk about agriculture in general. We’ve been traveling around the Valley and as you’ve mentioned the last 10 years have had more lean years than fat for a lot of farmers. And I’ve noticed that a lot of the cultivated fields, vegetable patches and so on, had been turned into subdivisions and so on. What do you think the long-term outlook is for agriculture in the Valley?
0:10:01 – 2094
DH: Well, we’ve got some obstacles there’s no question about it. One of the biggest problems we had better facing us now is irrigation water, availability of water. That’s probably the biggest concern. And in .. if we can get that rectified, I know that there is some .. right now here’s some what has created part of the .. the lack of water to the water shed has been that, in Mexico, that they have built some flow through dams which have basically held some of that water back that would have normally flowed into Lake Amistad and Falcon Lake which is were we source our water from. And they are trying to go through .. take steps now through .. through Washington, through other representatives to see if they can figure out a .. an answer to that situation. The other things is too that .. that’s, as I’ve indicated earlier, you know, when you lose two thirds almost of your citrus industry by virtue of freezes, when you have a smaller industry, your .. your volume is going to be less and therefore that has a tendency to .. to hurt you out in the market place. You can’t be as competitive. When you look, for example, our advertising budget for citrus in Texas is roughly a million dollars a year. And that’s just not advertising, I mean, that’s the total budget for everything that is involved in that advertising agency. And you compare that to Florida who .. who spends 10 million dollars just in fresh citrus. And that doesn’t even include all of their Florida orange juice promotions and grapefruit promotions. So it makes it much more difficult for a small area like this to be competitive and to .. to be viable. And so we have some obstacles. We have a great following cause we grow good products in this area. The Texas grapefruit is probably the most well-known and popular grapefruit grown anywhere. And we historically have been able to usually get a little better price than Florida or California with the products that we grow. But, there’s definitely some obstacles for us to overcome for us to .. to continue to be viable. One of the things that’s been another disadvantage, I guess, is the fact that we’ve been .. this particular area has been the, I think, the 3rd fastest growing area in the United States for the last two or three years. And with that we’ve had, you mentioned subdivisions, and there’s been a lot of property that has been converted to subdivisions because that’s a more viable way of getting a return on your investment than it is the .. then agriculture. So, that’s another area that’s of concern for agriculture too.
DT:Looking beyond agriculture maybe for a moment could you tell me about what you might see as major conservation challenges in the future?
0:13:18 – 2094
DH: Well, I think it goes back to the water issue again. I think what .. what were having to do now is to look at the means that can better utilize the water so we have less waste so we get the most benefit from .. from what we are able to .. to acquire. So, I think probably on a conservation method, that, you know, that’s probably the number on most important. The other thing is .. is were seeing in our area a lot of people going to no till agriculture. So, you know, we haven’t had the rains here the last 4 .. 5 .. 6 years that we normally have had in years passed. And where you have a drought condition, farming it the same way as you do when you have lots of rain creates a lot of problem with wind, you know, blowing sand and different things like that. So that’s become a more .. more of an important issue. And people tried to leave more residue in the soils to .. to reduce the amount of soil lost just to erosion.
DT: Again looking at the future you, mentioned that you had a couple of daughters. How do you think you can get and keep them interested in continuing organic agriculture or fostering some interest in environmental issues?
0:14:44 – 2094
DH: Well, actually I have four kids. I have two still at home. I have two that are .. that are off in college. But, you know, it’s an interesting .. it’s an interesting question. Because I don’t know if I really have the answer. My kids appreciate what I do. And they, you know, they enjoy the benefits of what I do. But they also realize the amount of hours and the amount of effort that has to go in to be .. to being a successful farmer. And I’m not sure if they’re really .. really wanting to commit to that kind of commitment. You know, time .. time changes, you know, when your kids are .. are young and in high school their interests don’t really lie in, you know, what dad does for a living or, you know, what’s .. what’s the best for the environment. But as my kids have gotten older, I have just recently spoke with my son, and I can see that his interests in things have changed considerably from when he was in high school. And he is beginning to become more concerned about, you know, the future and what it’s going to provide. And, you know, it’s .. it .. time will tell whether he will eventually end up here or not, or any of my kids for that matter. But we’ll .. we’ll see.
DT: Maybe you can talk about yourself. Were there any people in your childhood that may have got you interested in the outdoors or conservation?
0:16:21 – 2094
DH: I guess I would probably have to attribute that mostly to my father. When I was just real small, I mean, I was probably four or five years old, before I got into school, I would usually go to work with my dad. My mom would make me a little lunch with my dad and we would go. And I would ride the tractor with him or I would .. whatever he was doing, I was kind of his companion. And .. and I just gained a love for .. for the earth. I’ve always found it be a marvel to .. to prepare a piece of land and put a seed in and watch it grow and .. and to fully develop and then to reap the harvest. And that’s .. there’s a certain amount of magic involved in all that and it’s a very fulfilling, very rewarding thing to do, sometimes not financially, but it .. it is rewarding in .. in itself.
DT: Are there particular pieces of the earth that you enjoy visiting that beauty to you?
0:17:29 – 2094
DH: Well, we are fortunate enough to have a place up on the Sabinal River, up in the Hill Country of Texas. And when we want to get away for a few days, we usually head up there. And it’s .. it’s tranquil. It’s right in the middle of .. of nature. We have deer and turkey and squirrels and raccoon and everything wandering through the .. through the little farm there .. little .. little acreage that we have there. And we enjoy the river. And we enjoy being able to sit out and float on inner tubes and just enjoy the environment there. It’s a .. it’s a .. great place to go. It’s a great place to be.
DT: Well good enough. Thank you very much for spending some time with us.
End of Reel #2094
End of Interview with Dennis Holbrook