Beautiful blooming orchards line the Santaquin hillside like a mythical forest. Nestled among the twisting branches and brightly colored blooms is the home of life-long Utah fruit grower Chad Rowley. Rowley has been involved in the fruit business his entire life with more than 40 years of experience marketing, processing, and selling locally grown fruit as a member of several Utah co-ops.
With his extensive investment in agriculture, particularly fruit growing, IFA is excited to have Rowley bring his cooperative expertise and unique perspective to IFA as a newly elected member of the co-op’s Board of Directors.
Family Fruit Farming Legacy in Utah
Rowley is a third-generation fruit grower with deep roots in Utah. His fruit-farming family legacy dates back to the 1920s when his grandfather started planting cherry trees and other fruits in the Provo area just north of Santaquin.
“My grandfather started fruit farming shortly after he started his agriculture career,” says Rowley, “He established our family fruit farm in the Provo area, and my dad and my uncles farmed it for years.”
Not long after the Rowley’s venture into fruit growing, the Provo area experienced tremendous urban growth. With more and more development happening all around the orchards, Rowley’s parents moved to Santaquin in 1958 with the hopes that the new area would allow more fruit-growing opportunities and room for expansion.
Today, Rowley and his brothers farm a collective 500 acres of fruit trees, growing a variety of apples, peaches, cherries and nectarines.
IFA in the Orchards
With deep roots in the Intermountain West, the Rowley family have been IFA members for over 40 years. They have always relied on IFA for supplies but have especially come to trust the services and knowledge of IFA’s experts to keep their trees healthy and productive.
Fruit Tree Fertilizers and Pest Management
IFA has been Rowley's trusted resource for fertilizer and pest control products for many years. Todd Tolbert, a Certified Crop Advisor with IFA’s Utah County Agronomy Center in Spanish Fork, has been instrumental in helping the Rowley family find and utilize the products they need since 2012.
“Orchards — apples, peaches, cherries — they’re not like alfalfa; you don’t cut them four times a year,” Tolbert says. “You grow them and harvest them once. There’s a lot of investment in production.”
Tolbert and the agronomy team understand the importance of maximizing that single crop. IFA’s team analyzes the nutrients available to the trees by examining (1) the farm’s soils and (2) the plant’s tissue samples. This helps the Rowley’s make informed decisions on fertilizers and pest control to receive the best nutrition and care that maximizes investment in the single crop.
“We try to bring products that are specific for them and help them know the best ways to work on their farm to get the best return they can get,” says Tolbert.
Exploring New Orchard Technology
Rowley believes that the most beneficial service IFA brings to his orchards is expertise. “They’ve always supported agriculture, but in the last 25 years, IFA has become part of the fruit orchards and helps the fruit growers,” says Rowley. “They've become a great resource for all the fruit growers in this area to be a service, a teacher, and an educator, and help us become better prepared for what we have to do in the orchards.”
IFA’s agronomy team constantly strives to find new solutions to improve crop health and productivity for producers like Rowley. Tolbert enjoys meeting with representatives from IFA’s trusted vendors to learn about and test new products. With every step, he considers the benefit to his growers first and foremost.
“A lot of what we provide is expertise by bringing new products and information to [farmers] and helping them try new things,” says Tolbert. “There are specialized fruit products in many of these orchards. We want to minimize chemicals and what’s being added.”
Tolbert has worked closely with three generations of Rowleys to recommend new products and test new technologies. He always knew if he made the right recommendation based on the text he would receive from Rowley’s father.
“If I were doing things right, his reply would be cherries,” says Tolbert. “So if I got three cherries from Claude, I knew I’d done something right.”
Growing Local Cooperatives in Utah
Throughout his life and his fruit-growing career, Rowley has seen and experienced first-hand the benefits of cooperatives as both an active member and active leader within local and regional cooperatives.
Mountain Land Apples
Rowley was introduced to co-op management early in his career when he helped found the Mountain Land Apples cooperative nearly 40 years ago.
The decision to form a co-op was made shortly after Rowley purchased the apple orchard where his home is now tucked away. At that time, growing, packing, and selling apples was a new niche for Rowley, so he reached out to apple growers in the region, proposing they band together to form a cooperative.
“We felt like we needed to find a way to work together with other apple growers,” says Rowley. “I worked with a team of apple growers in the area, and we formed Mountain Land Apples.”
When Mountain Land Apples officially formed in 1983, Rowley took roles in both sales and general management. Under his care, the co-op grew into a successful packing and marketing entity for locally grown fruit.
Rowley still relies on Mountain Land Apples to pack and market his fresh apples, peaches, and nectarines. After 20 years of building the local co-op, Rowley stepped away from Mountain Land Apples’ leadership, but he didn’t leave the world of fruit-growing cooperatives.
Next Up: Payson Fruit Growers
After stepping from Mountain Land Apples, Rowley took on the general manager role for the Payson Fruit Growers cooperative, where he has served for 19 years. He dedicates his time to fruit processing and searching for new ways to market locally-grown cherries.
Much of the cherries processed at Payson Fruit Growers are dried pie cherries sold all over the U.S. and internationally. The concept of drying cherries for uses other than desserts actually came from Rowley’s father and uncle who were involved in another cooperative. At the time, the market for sweet and sticky pie cherries was very slim and limited largely to the dessert industry, but Rowley’s father and uncle’s search for new ways to market the fruits resulted in the success of dried fruit cherries.
Today, Rowley continues searching for new avenues to market the local cherries. By exploring new processing options such as juices and concentrates, he is branching into new industries much like his father and uncle.
Joining the IFA Team Board of Directors
With a 40-year career within cooperative management, Rowley believes that cooperatives are like a family and provide great value to their members. “We control or have a large say in what happens,” Rowley says, pointing out the key benefits of co-op membership. “We can work around hard-to-control costs. We can influence marketing. We have a little bit of say in all of that.”
Today, Rowley takes on a new but not-so-unfamiliar cooperative role with IFA. In the spring of 2023, IFA co-op members elected Rowley to serve as the district three representative and he will be a voice for growers in his area.
As a member-owned farmer's co-op, these representatives lead IFA and ultimately decide where to allocate the co-op’s resources to benefit members. With his first-hand experience on both the leadership and membership sides of cooperatives, Rowley is confident in the value IFA brings to co-op members.
“I know and understand the benefits of co-ops and how they’re concerned about their members,” says Rowley. “[IFA is] always trying to make it possible for them to thrive and get what they need at the lowest cost possible.”
As Rowley steps into his role with IFA’s board of directors, he looks forward to seeing the co-op continue to serve the needs of agriculture while remaining active on his family fruit farm. He is optimistic about the future of the operation and is dedicated to finding ways to persevere and continue the lifestyle in which his roots are firmly planted.
“We all enjoy it,” he says. “If we know there’s an option, we want to continue because we love what we do.”
Rowley and his family know that extending the fruit-growing family legacy won’t be an easy task as urbanization continues all around. “It’s a little bit challenging; it really is,” says Rowley. “There’s a lot of pressure from developers and water and everything else telling you that maybe an orchard isn’t the best use of this land, but in our families and our hearts, it is.”
Rowley and his family have begun searching for new ways to market their locally grown fruit and to monetize the orchards by exploring direct marketing, farmer’s markets, and agritourism.
“Farm markets, direct marketing and agritourism are all new things for us,” says Rowley. “We hope it provides a basis for the next generation to enjoy agriculture.”
IFA is excited to continue helping the Rowley family grow their fruit farming family legacy and we are honored to have Rowley join IFA’s Board of Directors. Learn about IFA’s Board of Directors and find your district representative by visiting IFA’s leadership page.
Written by Mikyla Bagley, IFA Content Specialist, and originally published in the IFA Cooperator magazine (vol. 89, no. 3) Fall 2023.
Mikyla Bagley is a fifth-generation rancher actively involved in her family’s cattle operation. She holds a deep respect for the wisdom and management practices of the farmers and ranchers who have crossed her path, both because of her family operation and otherwise. A deep desire to remain connected to the agriculture industry drove Mikyla to earn her BIS in Agriculture Science and Communication from Southern Utah University. She continues to be involved in her family’s operation while using her degree and life-long experience as IFA’s Content Specialist sharing the experiences and wisdom of IFA experts and Co-op Members.
“The agriculture community is filled with genuine and hard-working men and women whose passion for their lifestyle deserves to be shared. I look forward to helping highlight both their stories and expertise alongside IFA.”