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Producing Excellence

Pat McGuire

Ellsworth, MI

Royal Farms

Products: Cherries, apples, peaches and corn

Size of Operation: 500 acres

In Business Since: 1995

Farm Credit Partner: GreenStone Farm Credit Services

Working with Farm Credit Since: 1998

Sometimes getting what you want, even though you’re looking for it, can come as a surprise. For Pat McGuire, who wanted to get into farming after relocating to northern Michigan with his wife, Sara, it happened the day he went to talk to a local farmer about leasing some of his orchard land. Pat was hoping to have an answer by the end of the month; instead, the farmer answered him right then and there. As he drove away, he thought, “What have I done? I think I just became a farmer.”

For Pat, his dream of being a farmer has become very much a reality. Since founding Royal Farms nearly 20 years ago, he has consistently grown his business both in acreage and crop diversity. He’s more than doubled his initial 30 acres of sweet cherries and added 117 acres of tart cherries, 45 acres of apples and nine acres of mixed peaches, nectarines and apricots. He’s also diversified out of tree fruit altogether, planting the rest of the land he farms – nearly 270 acres – with corn, a crop he added for a number of reasons. “We had vacant land and didn’t have the capital to put into fruit,” he says. “With corn prices being what they are, it made sense.”

Something else that made sense to Pat was expanding how he sells his crops: he sells wholesale to grocery stores like Whole Foods, and also direct to consumers, evolving from visiting farmers’ markets to selling from a fruit stand. Then in 2004, with financing from GreenStone Farm Credit Services, he built a 3,000 square foot structure that houses a farm market as well as his offices. Royal Farms also has an online store selling to consumers throughout the U.S.

As with most agriculture, weather is an ongoing challenge, and in 2012 a weather event destroyed Pat’s entire tree fruit crop. “Mother Nature took our money,” he says. “It was a total crop disaster. We still had to pay the mortgage on the land, but had no income.” Despite the threat of natural disasters, though, Pat believes that keeping up with government regulation is an even bigger challenge. “When we started, regulation was manageable,” Pat says. “Today, one of our employees spends 60% of her time learning the rules and telling us what we have to do to comply.”

Some of those regulations cover food safety, something Pat takes very seriously. “I hope that when people eat food raised in America, they know that it’s safe, and it’s produced with them in mind,” Pat says. “My kids eat my fruit, too, so I wouldn’t do anything out here I wouldn’t feed to my own kids.”

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