Meet a Farmer: Josh Roberts of Taylor Farms
Meet Josh Roberts, Director of Agricultural Operations at Taylor Farms in Salinas, California. As a second-generation farmer, he loves the fact that no two days are ever the same.
Learn more about Josh, how much he enjoys off-road racing and why he chose to follow in his dad’s footsteps in a unique way.
CA GROWN: Tell me about the history of the company and what your role is.
Josh: Taylor Farms was started in 1995 by Bruce Taylor and we’ve grown into the world’s largest salad producer. My role as the Director of Agricultural Operations requires me to source all of our raw product for the retail side of our business. Taylor Farms is broken down into three divisions: deli, retail and food service and my area involves the retail side. My core responsibilities include converting our sales demand into raw pounds/acres to fill our plant. My day-to-day job includes making sure that our relationships with our growers are maintained and our supply commitments are executed as accurately as possible. A good example is if I need 10 acres of organic spinach and I’m contracted with a grower, I make sure that grower facilitates and delivers those pounds of spinach every week. I also make sure the harvest of all the items we need is executed as well. I’ll either organize third-party harvesters or use our own in-house harvest company.
CA GROWN: What does a typical day look like for you?
Josh: A typical day starts around 5 a.m. at home looking at emails and when I get to work, I usually start my first half of the day outside looking at our plantings with the different growers and making sure we have good germination and quality at the field level. Because of the weather here in Salinas and the growing areas that we source from, it’s better to be outside in the morning so that’s when I meet with growers. In the afternoons, I usually have other meetings, office work and respond to emails.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Josh: I grew up in agriculture because my dad is a farmer, so I’ve been involved with ag since I was a baby and I can remember riding around on the floorboard of his pickup when I was 3 or 4. My dad is a wine grape grower so growing up in that industry was very exciting, but when the time came to choose a career path, I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps but also carve my own path. I chose produce and got into this industry by doing some summer internships with Western Farm Service, an application company. Then my first real job was working with carrots at B&P Packing in Soledad and I did a similar job there managing all of the ag operations. They were a very small mom and pop carrot company, but that’s really where I cut my teeth with row crops. From there, I moved into Fresh Express for five years as the Grower Relations Supervisor and then Manager. Then I came here to Taylor Farms and the rest is history. All of the jobs that I’ve had so far have a grower/shipper relationship. Taylor Farms doesn’t actually farm anything ourselves, we contract all of our crops. So my area of expertise has become finding growers that are best suited to grow for us and also develop new growers to take on the Taylor Farms model and grow with us as we continue to expand our operations both locally and out of the area. For me, it’s a very exciting role and it allows me to travel around the country and around the states. No day is the same around here, there’s always a proverbial fire to put out and a new challenge each day so it’s definitely not a monotonous job. It’s a very fast-paced job and that’s exactly what I was looking for, especially since I’m a young person in this industry.
CA GROWN: What are some ways your company gives back to the community?
Josh: One one of the coolest things about working for Taylor Farms is how much philanthropy actually takes place here. Bruce Taylor is one of the biggest philanthropists I’ve ever known and I’m fortunate to work for him and see how he gives back. We just held a scholarship event where we gave away $170,000 of scholarship funds to local recipients who are in college or going to start college soon and one or both of their parents are Taylor Farms employees. Other ways include donating to local schools, charities, food banks and we’ve recently opened a Taylor Farms clinic in Gonzalez. The Taylor family saw the need to provide local medical care to our employees and their families, so through a partnership venture we donated some money and opened up that clinic.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Sean: My number one hobby is spending time with my wife and kids and hanging out with them is always fun. More personally, I enjoy desert off-road racing. I try to spend as much time as I can in Baja, Mexico racing cars and motorcycles. My dad used to race motorcycles, so growing up we always had dirt bikes and I’m not much of an organized sports guy, so motor sports has been my passion. As my kids get older, I can include them more and more as well so that’s exciting.
CA GROWN: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Sean: I’ve enjoyed taking on the role of managing our organic program. Organic production is becoming more and more mainstream in our industry and for us, it’s been a huge growth category as well. It’s a challenging area both from a sourcing and an overall consistency standpoint, specifically with organic spinach. So for me, being able to keep up with the growth that our company has been faced with and deliver quality and supply every week consistently has been a great achievement for me because I get to see all the hard work pay off.
CA GROWN: What has contributed to your past success and what are you doing to ensure success going forward?
Sean: Some of the biggest contributors to our success has been developing and maintaining the relationships with key suppliers and partner growers. If you look at our grower base, most of them have been with us since our beginning days in the 90s, so those relationships are what keep us alive and go all the way through to our customer base. We generally don’t say “no” at Taylor Farms and if our customers ask us to do something, we’ll figure out how to do it if we don’t already know how. We listen to our customers, consumers and pivot to their needs and that’s what will keep us competitive in this industry moving forward. Everyone shares the same must-do attitude and it’s what makes us a cohesive value to the industry.
CA GROWN: As a California farmer, we know that you have a long list of activities you undertake on your farm to care for the land and its resources. What are one or two ways that you’re most proud of or you feel are innovative ways you care for your land?
Sean: We have a Director of Sustainability and an entire department dedicated to sustainability both on the farming and the production side. All of our growers have to follow sustainable measures to reduce costs on the farm and to maintain the environment. Drip irrigation is a great example of this and all of our organic romaine lettuce is on drip irrigation at this point. It’s a great way to reduce water consumption and reduce nitrogen demand for our plants. I share a personal relationship with all of our growers where not only are we dependent on them to provide us with quality, but they’re dependent on us to make sure we’re connecting them and educating them with the tools they need to make sure they’re competitive in the market and remain sustainable. Overall, sustainability and food safety are both core focuses for us and at the front of our minds daily. We need to treat our land and our growers with the same appreciation and in order to do that, we have to follow some key sustainable principles. Whether it’s integrated pest prep management on the organic side or something as simple as proper rotation, we make sure our soil diseases and our yields are held to a high standard.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Sean: Make sure it’s something you really put your whole heart into and if you’re passionate about this, don’t ever give up. You can carve the road you want to drive down, so don’t let anything get in the way of following your dreams because there’s definitely a need for talented individuals that share the same drive and passion. If it’s something you don’t have the will to do or the work ethic, then I’d suggest doing more of an 8-5 type of job because this is a 24/7 job and if you don’t love it, you’re going to hate it. A lot of folks think this is glamorous and while it definitely has its rewards and perks, it can be quite challenging as well.