Farmer Q & A
From the Farmer's Tractor
April 30, 2007
Farmer Q & A
Bern Kroupa, 59, farms 200 acres near Traverse City, Michigan. About 90 percent
of Kroupa's crop is cherries; the rest is apples and peaches. Kroupa has been
farming all his life and currently runs the Old Mission Fruit Co. His wife, Cheryl,
represents the producers and manufacturers of maraschino cherries for the National
Cherry Growers and Industries Foundation (NCGIF).
How did you get into farming?
I grew up on a fruit farm. My family came to the area in 1852, and began working
in agriculture. We've been a farming family ever since. You sort of get it in your
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
Pest management has changed significantly in the last decade. These days, we pay
far more attention to scouting for controlling pests. Also, rather than air blasting
a sprayer in fruit trees, we now have computer assisted vision equipment that
can target specific tree canopies. This helps us avoid blank spots, and increases
efficiency. In the first year of use, we were able to cut our pesticide usage by 25
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
Demographics are the biggest factor in U.S. agriculture today. There's going to be
more consolidation because there are fewer growers with the financial ability to
take on the challenges of expansion.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Food policies on a national level. There is a lot of lip service paid to preserving
farm land, but agriculture is not encouraged in the U.S. Things like preferential
agreements abroad, prohibitive management practices, and regulatory issues
continue to work against us.
How do you decide what to plant?
Great Lakes soil is sandy and gravely, naturally lending itself to the planting of
trees and vines. Apples, grapes and cherries do well in this region; corn and
soybeans do not. We work hard to diversify our crop within tree groups, and
experiment with appropriate varieties.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
We try to position ourselves so that there are few layers between the farm and the
grocery. We stay close to those that purchase and manufacture our products, like
General Mills and Birdseye, and work with them to stay close to the marketplace.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
Our farm is heavily geared toward ground and surface water protection. We try to
preserve ground water and air quality, and keep a sod base to prevent erosion.
We are careful with the way we store, load and apply chemicals and fuels, and pay
attention to biological models.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We sell apples in the autumn, and although it's a minor part of what we do (most
of our operation is mechanized), we really look forward to it. We sell them roadside
along with a high-end meat market.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in
Consumers are extremely interested in where food comes from, and they ask a lot
of good questions. It's a marvelous experience to meet the consumer, and very