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Methodical planning and hard work provides first-generation Mexican farmer opportunity for ownership in Yakima, Washington.
Ernesto Ortiz is from Guadalajara, Mexico. As a young man he worked seasonal labor on farms in the western U.S. before working his way to Washington’s fruitful Yakima Valley. Ernesto never imagined being a land or business owner. Yet his character, work ethic and passion for agriculture captured the attention of others, like the team at Farm Credit who helped Ernesto and his son Octavio buy orchards of their own.
Ernesto is quick to credit others for helping him build a future in agriculture. He talks about the Pearson family who hired him to manage their orchards in the 80s. Mr. Pearson respected Ernesto’s character and work ethic, but he also knew how difficult the language barrier would be for him and his family. So, Mr. Pearson encouraged him to learn better English and was willing to pay for his education.
Ernesto managed the Pearson family orchards for nearly 20 years. So, when the time came for a farm succession or exit strategy, the Pearsons chose to lease the orchards and gift the farm equipment to Ernesto. Mr. Pearson agreed to finance him for a year to help with cash flow, then introduced him to the Farm Service Agency which led to Farm Credit and Ernesto’s first operation.
Ernesto’s son Octavio remembers the early conversations well. “It was a different ball game to get a loan from a bank,” he says. “We honestly weren’t prepared. My dad had never really done much record-keeping before. But Farm Credit got us straightened out in the first year. They taught us about recordkeeping and cash flow. They also said we get crop insurance. We were hit hard with hail the next two years and if it wasn’t for that insurance, we never would have made it.”
Now more than 20 years later, Ernesto is passing the farm to Octavio. “It’s still rare to see a second-generation Hispanic farmer taking over a family operation,” says Farm Credit Relationship Manager Nestor Garcia. “Many in the first generation spent 20 to 30 years working for large farms before they were able to get enough capital to farm on their own. Only now are the patriarchs getting ready to retire and pass management and ownership to the next generation.”
Nestor has worked closely with the Ortiz family on transition plans for the past three years. As Ernesto takes a more supporting role, Octavio is now managing all the finances and operations. Ernesto’s income has been transitioned slowly to his son and with Nestor’s help, loans that were originally in Ernesto’s name have been transitioned to Octavio.
“The process was slow, methodical and very well planned,” says Nestor. “It was a simple transition method that eventually switched everything into the son’s name, but very slowly to make sure he could stand on his own before he was allowed to take over. Octavio has done a terrific job. It’s very rewarding to see the next generation of Hispanic producers who stayed on the farm, continue to keep the legacy of the patriarch moving forward.”