brian O'Neil

OWNER OF HURON ORCHARD SERVICES

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the AgSnacc Podcast where we take a look at careers in agriculture and the journey toward those careers. I’m your host, Erin Gorter, and we hope you enjoy this tasty AgSnacc. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Okay, so we're here with Brian O'Neil, the owner of Here On Orchard Services, a farm management company. Hi, Brian. 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Hey, Dr. Gorter. How are you today? 

 

Erin Gorter:

I'm good, how are you? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Good. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Good. So why don't you go ahead and tell us what you do for a living and what a typical day looks like in the life of Brian? 

 

Brian O'Neil:

So I own a farm management company in the Central Valley of California and in San Joaquin Valley and we manage pistachios and almond orchards for farm investors. So my typical day involves getting up early and going out and checking up on all the orchards and occasionally, I have to write irrigation schedules. Well, not occasionally, once a week in the summertime. And then we also write schedules for harvest and when to spray, what to spray, how much to fertilize, and we also plant trees and develop new orchards and we'll also remove old orchards and make new plans for new stuff. So, we're kind of a one stop shop for somebody who wants to invest in almonds or pistachios, and so yeah, that's what we do. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Very good. And to get a little bit more background information on you, what was your high school experience like? Did you play any sports? Participate in extracurricular activities? What type of classes did you take? Anything. 

 

Brian O’Neil:

So I went to San Joaquin Memorial in Fresno, and we didn't have an ag program, but I grew up with an ag background. I grew up out in Five Points on a farm and, but ended up going to a school where there wasn't an ag program, but that was okay. I had a little bit of experience with growing up on the farm. But in school, in high school, I took some advanced math classes, and what's going on that path I was considering becoming an engineer and doing engineering in college. So that was kind of where I aimed and that's what I ended up doing in college. I did ag engineering, really enjoyed it. I planned on becoming a civil engineer and concentrating in water during college. And that's what I did. I concentrated in water and irrigation, and really, really concentrated on all that stuff and I got some summer jobs. I worked on farms in the summers in between college years and I worked on campus at an engineering firm on campus at Cal Poly, the Irrigation Training and Research Center and I helped them with research projects for a couple of summers. I also got an internship at the USDA NRCS, which is the federal government, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and just got a lot of work experience through those programs. I was really fortunate to put myself in the right place at the right time to be able to have those experiences and then when I finished college, I was planning on becoming, going to work at an engineering firm and doing ag engineering type water projects. But unfortunately, the housing crisis was happening in 2009 and engineering firms were not hiring people. So I went back to work on the farm doing irrigation work. At the time it was called Paramount Farming Company. Now that changed to Wonderful and worked there for five or six years. Did all kinds of pretty big irrigation projects. I planted trees, developed lots of acres for them. I drilled wells, I dug canals, I installed canal gates. I installed lots of irrigation systems for them and did lots of planning for them and then eventually I decided that I wanted to get into farm management, a little bit bigger picture stuff. And I met a guy that was interested in retiring and he asked if I was interested in farm management at all I said yeah, sure. And I ended up going to work for him and buying his company from him eventually and here I am now. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Very good. So it sounds like you did not expect to be doing this when you were in high school or college really, but it really did kind of tie together some things that you enjoyed, like the engineering side and the mathematics side but you still got to be like on the farm. 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Well, I always wanted to be a farmer but, you know, that's really hard to just be a farmer because it costs a lot of money to be a farmer and it's really hard to get going so you know what I decided to do was because I'm an expert in a portion of the farming, and then I figured, well, one day maybe if I'm really good at it, I'll be able to become my own farmer. And I still, I don't feel like I've made it to that point yet. I am a professionally hired farmer, but I don't own my own farmland or anything yet. Maybe one day I will. But that's, that's my goal. And that's what I want to do. And this has been, you know, my path, I just became an expert in water and irrigation and kind of went from there. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Cool. Gotta have goals.  

 

Brian O’Neil:

Mm hmm.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Growing up, how is education and work life viewed in your household? And how did that influence your career path? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

My dad finished college and my mom didn't. And, my dad's family that was always very, very, very important. And they were always, you know, 100% on the education train, and my mom's family was too, but not all of them finished college. But most of them had successful careers with or without it. So, but they definitely, my mom's side of the family definitely instilled hard work ethic in us. So we had both, you know, blue collar, hard work ethic, example set for us, my mom's side. And on my dad's side, it was go educate yourself and become an expert in the field. So that combination really helped me and my siblings along. 

 

Erin Gorter:

What is your favorite part about your day at work? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

That's a great question. My favorite part about my day at work is going to work and knowing that I'm doing a better job than a lot of my neighbors out there and it shows when I get to go see all my trees and how well we did at the end of the year, and it's really satisfying. Farming can be really satisfying when you complete a successful farming year. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Okay, flip it. What is the hardest or most challenging part about your day at work? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

The hardest and most challenging part is talking to some of my customers when we have not had a good year, and that happens sometimes just due to weather or any other thing that's out of my control on the farm. So there's a lot of things that can go wrong between the time when you start, you know, crop starts to bloom and when you harvest it, so it's tough to dodge all those bullets and sometimes we do get caught by one or two of them and having that conversation with my client that we had a problem and it is going to cost us some of our crop; that's the toughest part, but it's also sometimes the most important part because you have to be honest with these people that things don't always go to plan and they'll respect that honesty and openness when you give it to them. 

 

Erin Gorter:

We're in the business of producing, managing and marketing the distribution of food. I think I know the answer to this question, but I still want to hear you answer it. What is your favorite agricultural commodity? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Oh, pistachios. And almonds. Almonds are a close second, but definitely pistachios.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, listeners, you go to this man's house, there are pistachios on the table for you, pistachios for everyone. 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Of course! Plant-based protein. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Plant-based protein, there you go. I know you mentioned some of your own kind of internship opportunities, but can you think of any internship or volunteer opportunities that might be available right now for high school students that would give them the chance to get involved and learn more about your line of business? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Yeah, I would go out and work at your family farm if you have a chance to, or go out and work at any farm, if you can. They're always looking for, for help in the summertime, I know. And you just have to be willing to show up on time and work a full day and be willing to help and that's really all. And that's where I started, you know, working irrigation when I was a kid. Fixing drip tubes and walking behind a transplanter and doing little jobs like that, you can gain a huge amount of experience and really get your foot in the door for the next job. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Thank you. Thinking about your career and where you're at right now, what would you go back and tell like 15-year-old Brian O'Neil to make yourself more prepared for the future? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Work hard in school. Be open to new ideas. And just be ready for whenever those opportunities will fall into your lap because they will fall into your lap, but you have to be ready to take them. So that's all part of working hard in school and having an open mind to wherever your path takes you. 

 

Erin Gorter:

What type of changes do you think you'll see in your line of business in the next 20 years? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

Well, I'm kind of a water expert and we went over that. And I think our ways of managing water resources have changed and will continue to change over the next 20 years. And that's going to change the cropping patterns. And it's going to change the way we operate on the farms in all of California. So that's a big thing that we're working on now, and we know our work now is going to affect what we do in the next 20 years. And then the other big thing is the ag labor situation we have in California. There's less and less labor available, and it's getting more and more expensive. So things are going to become more mechanized and more computerized. And we all need to be ready to adapt and take on those challenges. There are tons of things that we do in the farms today that require the human touch, and that's going to get tougher and tougher and tougher. So we need to be ready to adapt in and make changes where necessary if we're going to keep farming. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Alright, last question. What seed would you like to plant for any student who might be interested in pursuing a career in your field? 

 

Brian O’Neil:

If you wanted to become a farm manager, I would say make sure you become an expert in one part. You don't have to be an expert in the entire farm, you have to be an expert in one part of the farm and then understand how your expertise affects the rest of the farm. And, you know, it's like being a composer for an orchestra. The composer doesn't know exactly how to play all of the instruments. But the composer knows exactly how they all fit together. So he might be an expert at one of them. But then his true knowledge comes when he figures out how to fit them all together and work them in concert with each other. And that's the big challenge of being a farm manager. But you can't you can't do that without really becoming an expert at one, at least one part of it first. So that's what I would recommend and don't be afraid to start low on the totem pole, get your hands dirty, and be willing to help. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Awesome. Thank you. 

 

Brian O’Neil:

You're welcome, Dr. Gorter. 

 

Thank you for listening to this AgSnacc, a production of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. For more information, please visit our website at www.agsnacc.com. That’s www.a-g-s-n-a-c-c.com