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Farming is in their genes

CHERYL TEVIS 04/05/2011 @ 2:27pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

If you're looking for Charlie Pitigliano, you can catch up with him and his three sons tomorrow at the farm office about 6:30 a.m.

“We talk about what needs to be done to cover our equipment and labor needs that day, and what the weather is going to do,” he says. “Sometimes a few farm neighbors drop by for coffee.”

Charlie and his wife, Nancy, farm near Tipton, California. Sons Michael, 42, Josh, 32, and Dominic, 28, are the fourth generation to farm there. They grow almonds, wine grapes, and pistachios.

Charlie, 61, began farming with his parents in 1977. “After college, I started with 450 acres that came from my mother and her father,” he says. They raised row crops: corn, cotton, and hay.

In 1982, Charlie took cuttings from a vineyard established by his grandfather, planting 50 acres of grapes. In 1985, he added almonds. “My Uncle Charlie said we needed permanent crops,” he says.

Today, they own 1,500 acres in Tulare County. “In 1982, I set a goal of having all my acres in permanent crops,” Charlie says. “In 2010, I finally reached it. It's capital-intensive. We had to ease into it.”

The Pitiglianos, with help from 15 employees, rent and custom-farm 15,000 acres in Tulare and Kern Counties.

The three sons earned degrees in ag management, ag engineering, and marketing. “Farming is in their blood and in their genes,” Charlie says.

Nancy agrees. “Our sons could have other careers, but they always went with me to take dinner to Dad, sitting on the equipment, and eating together. They say they want the lifestyle for their kids.”

The Pitiglianos made two key decisions that helped make room for their sons.

1. Early GPS adoption. “GPS was an important tool because field operations could run 24-7,” Charlie says. “More work could be completed with less wear and tear on equipment and less manpower. Now 16-row equipment is on the horizon.”

2. Fine-tuned irrigation. All their ground is irrigated. In the 1990s, droughts inflated irrigation costs. They converted from flood irrigation to micro sprinklers, installing a PureSense moisture monitoring system. “It tells us when to irrigate and how much,” Charlie says. “We adjust water at critical times to increase yields.”

The cost of installing micro-irrigation is $1,500 per acre.“We produce 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of almonds per acre,” Nancy says. (State average is 1,500-1,600 pounds per acre.) “It's also great for wine grapes,” she says.

Back in 1975, the Pitiglianos recall being denied a $60,000 loan. “The banker thought our dreams were too large for our pocketbook,” Charlie says. “He said you'll never make it. Dad gave me the loan, and we never looked back.”

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