Lincoln Forry has been a walnut farmer his entire life in California. He has moved to Texas to keep his farming legacy alive.

CALIFORNIA IS LOSING FAMILY FARMS

FARMING FAMILY MOVES TO TEXAS TO PRESERVE THEIR LEGACY

Today, December 26, Lincoln Forry, a California walnut farmer will transplant his family’s century-old farming legacy to a new state. Despite a healthy 650-acre walnut orchard, loyal employees and top-of-the-line equipment, this farming operation can no longer thrive in California.
It’s a bittersweet reality. On one hand, three generations of the Forry family are walking away from a long history of farming in the Golden State to migrate to a more business-friendly state. On the other hand, there is a bright future in store for them.
The process took about four years to transition from initial thoughts about the future of farming in California to the actual sale of the ranch which occurred about three months ago. The family stayed until December to manage the walnut harvest — both at the field level and operate the huller/dryer.
The Forry family’s story is an example of how California’s regulatory environment is suffocating family-owned and operated farms. Lincoln says farms with less than several thousand acres are particularly vulnerable because they are too small to hire office staff to manage compliance requirements, but big enough fall into regulatory thresholds.
Given this reality, Lincoln felt it was more important to farm where a future is plausible for his children and grandchildren.

Jennifer and Lincoln Forry prepare to move to Texas from California.

Jennifer and Lincoln Forry prepare to move to Texas from California.

From left: Jennifer Forry and Lincoln Forry pictured on their ranch in Colusa.

Jennifer and Lincoln Forry pictured a few days before moving from their ranch in Colusa.

NEW CHAPTER

Four years ago, Lincoln and his wife, Jennifer, went on road trip to Texas to look at purchasing a pecan orchard in consideration of expanding the business.
They liked what they saw, and more importantly liked what they heard from other farmers in the state.
Lincoln and Jennifer were in disbelief as they learned about the business environment for ag business — it seemed to be based the concept of mutual trust to farm responsibly as opposed to multi-layered regulatory oversight.
Excited by the prospect, they came back to California and shared the news with Lincoln’s mom. Lincoln’s mom and dad farmed and operated the huller/dryer for 50 years, and his mom continues as an active participant in the business.
After the initial visit, the family researched the differences between the two states. Their findings: California appeared to be completely opposite from Texas in terms of being able to pursue a farming lifestyle.
Then they visited again, this time with his mom and their four children to see where they might live in Texas.
The actual decision-making process was not easy. They had to justify leaving behind a ranch that has been silent partner to their family over five generations. Leaving means letting go of sentimental ties to their family home.
Lincoln’s great-grandfather settled on the ranch in 1903. The ranch in Colusa has provided an ideal place to raise a family.
Lincoln had to decide personally as well as collectively with his family.
He thought about he felt about a future life in California. With a sentiment that the state has little regard for the farming community it cast a shadow on his future outlook.
He remembered thinking a few years ago, “I’m too young to not want to get up and go to work in the morning.”
Then as a family they talked it over. They listed the pros and cons: to stay or not stay in California.
“We all agreed, that we need to go,” Lincoln said. “I didn’t feel that there wouldn’t be any (future) here for my kids. So, I got them a new piece of dirt.”
Wanting the dirt to be viable, he sold the family’s California ranch and bought a cattle ranch in Paris, Texas.
Texas offers an opportunity to move to a state where ag business is embraced instead of scrutinized. Lincoln feels strongly that making this move provides a more sustainable future for the family business to grow for another century.

Lincoln Forry's hands reflect the work that has been a part of his everyday life as a farmer.

WHY?

California-based operations must adhere to the strictest standards in the country.
Regulations have a long history in the state with traditional brick and mortar businesses — manufacturing, processing, etc. A significant number of regulations were established in the 1960s and 1970s, many of which were triggered by the Clean Air Act.
Regulations applied to traditional businesses; but, agriculture was a different type of business, so most rules exempted ag businesses.
Ag has been and continues to be a difficult segment to regulate for several reasons.
With a diversity of operations means there is a lack of uniformity among operations which can range from a dairy farm, 100-acre pistachio farm or 200-acre strawberry farm. Seasonality is another area that hinders process. For example, a busy three-month period for an almond harvest turns into no activity following the harvest during the rest of the year.
To make matters worse, there are very few common elements that individual crops share and California is home to hundreds of crops.
Equipment is highly specialized for the type of crop it’s used for. Secondly, seasonal equipment varies in age — from a 60-year-old tractor to a nearly brand-new shaker.
Despite the logistical challenges, the last two decades have served as a “catch-up” through a series of changes to legislative and regulatory requirements that apply to farming operations.
The evolution in regulations occurred in the early 2000s, around the time Lincoln transitioned to the helm of the family ranch.
Traditional exemptions for ag faded when multiple pieces of legislation targeted agriculture operations — in a series of bills called the SB 700 series.
These laws cast a wide net to bring all ag operations under scrutiny and move the rulemaking process into high-gear so that not only was compliance now mandated, but operations had to keep pace with industries that had been regulated for decades.
One regulatory example is open burning (also called ag burning) is a rule that seeks to control particulate matter. The rule went into effect in 2010 by requiring a registration and permitting process for an ag operation to burn on designated burn days which generally are just a handful a year.
Overall, the changes have been significant.
“We’ve gone too far too fast and it feels like we are outrun. It’s a big snowball, that is now an avalanche,” Lincoln said.
Air regulations set the stage for a tenuous operating environment, but it was labor law that determined the Forry’s farming future.

LABOR

Colusa city hall is picturesque, just like the small town of Colusa, CA.

Colusa city hall is picturesque, just like the small town of Colusa, CA.

On January 1, 2016, California’s minimum wage increased from $9 to $10. On January 1, 2018, the minimum wage will increase from $10 to $10.50 and set in motion annually increases from $10.50 to $15 per hour. There is a one year delay in implementation for employers with less than 25 employees.
Lincoln explained he would have no problem paying his employees more money and would be glad to do it. There are two problems with the minimum wage equation: it increases business expenses for all California-based businesses, and it decreases how much money the farm is paid for the crop.
If Lincoln stayed in California, his payroll expenses (not including payroll tax or workers’ compensation) would increase by $400,000 in 2018. This increase is based on the 10 year-round employees. When the harvest season arrived, that would increase to 25 employees.
Increasing the minimum wage also means higher costs for all goods and services, including the businesses where Lincoln would buy parts, fertilizer, packaging, or pay for transportation. The higher wage is added to the cost of the item or service, and passed along to the customer.
“Just go look at everything you buy. Look around your house and everything is going to go up,” Lincoln said.
The impact doesn’t stop there: the walnut processor where Lincoln’s walnuts are processed will also have higher costs.  Now, Lincoln’s price per pound drops.
“Where do I get that money? It comes out of my pocket — meaning my savings and this isn’t a one time cost. Those that buy my walnuts will pay a half cent a pound less to account for the wage increases. Now, I am getting a half cent or penny less a pound,” Lincoln said.
In farming, producers don’t have the power to set the price for their product based on the law of supply and demand.
There is another change that is affecting ag. California passed a law in 2017 that removes overtime provisions for ag field operations. The new law will be phased-in, starting January 1, 2019.
Lincoln calculated the health of the family business just by adding the labor costs. Based on the minimum wage increase and removal of ag overtime provisions, the business would be upside down in five years.
Despite the grim reality, Lincoln struggled with how to break the news to his employees.
Nearly half of the 10 employees have worked with the Forry family before Lincoln took the helm.
The employees are like family. They were at his wedding, saw his children come home from the hospital and attended his father’s funeral.
“I’ve never had to look a guy in the eye before and tell him he is laid off,” Lincoln said. “Now, I am essentially having to turn a blind eye, and walk away.”
He said he had to put his family first, but it was still a grueling experience.

NEW OPERATION

Lincoln Forry pictured in a young walnut orchard with solar in the background.

Lincoln Forry pictured in a young walnut orchard with solar in the background.

Installing a new huller/dryer was a necessity to keep the business afloat and was completed before the family contemplated moving out of state.
Lincoln explained that new huller/dryer was necessary to accommodate local walnut farmers who brought their crop to the Forry facility.
“Customer’s crops were getting bigger and out-growing our small facility. We either had to let go of customers or go big,” Lincoln said.
Forry’s huller/dryer handles more than 3 million pounds of walnuts.
A walnut huller/dryer serves as a second step in the post-harvest handling of walnuts. First, walnuts are harvested in orchards. Immediately after harvesting, the raw nuts are transported to a huller/dryer or in the Forry’s case, they operate their own to process their crop, as well as, for others.
During the next step, the hulling process removes the outer layer, also called the husk, from the walnut. Walnuts are then dried before being transported to a processor. At the processor, the crop is sized, graded, and packaged of both in-shell and shelled walnuts for shipment to third parties for sale.
Retiring the 50 year old huller/dryer to a brand new huller/dryer provided more capacity, improved technology and greater efficiency.

LOSS FOR CALIFORNIA

The state of California may not notice the Forry family leaving. By the time it becomes noteworthy, the pendulum will have swung too far.
One walnut grower’s plight is really one that belongs to all Californians.
There are so many positives that come from a single 700-acre farm: jobs, food, open land, preserving a way of life, economy, environment.
“There are hundreds of people who contribute to produce a bag bag of walnuts,” said Lincoln. “It’s not just me and 10 guys.”
“It is spent here. It’s 114 years of spending money here in the community.”
How do you replace five generations of caretakers?
“You have to take care of dirt and ground in turn it takes care of you,” Lincoln said. “It’s a give and take.”
Texas will inherit an incredible family legacy.

Lincoln's dad bought this truck brand new in 1966. The truck runs and is an example of the ranch history in Colusa.

Lincoln’s dad bought this truck brand new in 1966. The truck runs and is an example of the ranch history in Colusa.

16 Comments
  • Lincoln Forry Q & A | Farming Fables

    December 26, 2017 at 10:33 am Reply

    […] Read Lincoln’s story here. […]

    • Patricia Rynn

      January 2, 2018 at 1:26 pm Reply

      Mr. Forry– Thank you for your post and outlining all the reasons for leaving California. I was born and raised here and love this State but the politicians in charge don’t seem to mind losing farm businesses and other businesses along with thousands of jobs. Agriculture used to be the number 1 industry in this State. It makes me so sad to see multi-generational farmers leaving California.
      Pat Rynn
      Rynn & Janowsky, LLP

  • Townzens

    December 27, 2017 at 9:19 am Reply

    Love the Forrys 💕💕💕. Prayers to you all and miss you ! Please stay in touch.

  • Jim McCoey

    December 27, 2017 at 6:48 pm Reply

    You are ahead of your time recognizing California is no longer a viable place to conduct business. California is managed by “anchor babies” with chips on their shoulders who’s parents were very industrious with many earning their way into farming with “sweat equity”. Sadly they hold family farmers in contempt and prefer a pursuit of social justice, a pseudo label for socialism/communism. The Rio Grande Valley between Las Cruces, N.M. and Mission, Texas will welcome a family like The Forry’s who will contribute to the area for the next two hundred years. Good luck and God bless you.

    • Gabrielle Kirkland

      December 27, 2017 at 8:23 pm Reply

      Thank you Jim for your comments. I am so glad to hear that the Forry family will be welcome in their new home in Texas. That is reassuring. It is a sad reality, but I am excited for them to have the opportunity to move forward. Please check back at farmingfables.com for stories about amazing families like the Forry family. – Gabrielle Kirkland

      • Jim McCoey

        December 28, 2017 at 8:16 am Reply

        Indeed I will, Gabrielle.
        All the best in 2018,
        Jim

  • […] You can read the entire story of Forry’s struggles to comply with California regulations and why his family is moving to Texas at farmingfables.com. […]

  • John Pandol

    December 28, 2017 at 2:37 pm Reply

    Writer Victor Davis Hanson said that his 6th generation Selma farm is more of a burden than a benefit to his children. We’ve been watching businesses(read tax base) leave the state for decades: aerospace and defense contractors, film production, dairy, layer hen operations and now crops. What the Hell happened? Labor rates? Taxes? Workers comp? Environmental rules? Regulations? Lawless Courts? A dystopian dictatorship ruled by a tyranny of the clueless. The decendants of the dust bowl diaspora are back on Route 66 but heading east. Mr Forry’s workers will leave soon as well, on to states with better business environments(read jobs) or perhaps, like many, back to Mexico(read jobs). I wish the agrotourism Disneyland that is the Napa Valley would put up BIG SIGNS to tell our sad tale.

    • Gabrielle Kirkland

      December 29, 2017 at 7:15 pm Reply

      Thank you John for your comments. It appears a there is a convergence of multiple pressures being placed on businesses in California. We’ve lost businesses before, and honestly I am happy the Forry family were able to have enough assets to have the option to move. What bothers me about this situation is the extreme disconnect between the cause and effect. This story gives a full circle example of the unintended consequences of regulations which represents the lack of understanding about farming operations. An agrotourism approach is a great start to begin to shift the mindset about ag. And I feel that ag carries that burden to educate the public.

  • Mark Borba

    December 28, 2017 at 4:51 pm Reply

    Linc…As a clasmate of your Dad’s in Class IX of Ag Leadership you should hold your head high…’cause I know he’s looking down…very proud of you for makng a tough decision…and doing what’s necessary to continue Forry Farms for future generations. The easy thing to do is “keep doin’ what I’ve always done”…and ride it over the cliff. If I wasn’t 67…I’d likely follow your lead…OUT OF CALIFORNIA!). It takes guts and resolve to make such a decision…and I wish you the best! Texas is gaining a tremendous resource: THE FORRY FARMING FAMILY. Knock ‘em dead, Linc!

    • Gabrielle Kirkland

      December 29, 2017 at 7:15 pm Reply

      Thanks Mark for sharing your comment to Lincoln. And i appreciate your leadership here in the Central Valley.

  • Daniel

    December 29, 2017 at 1:24 pm Reply

    So a family was lost, but the same ground will continue to be farmed? Presumably by another family? Or at least another entity? I suppose it’s sad to see people move from ground they have farmed for generations, but the rest of us move all the time. It’s the way of the world. Overall, I don’t think agricultural production is down in California, at least in non-drought years like 2017. This an over dramatized piece. If growers can have better success elsewhere, then they should move if they make that decision. Isn’t that kind of how free market principles work? Let the market shake things out between different states.

    There’s only one Central Valley of California, and it will continue to be a highly productive agricultural region. If things get too bad, the market will speak and things may change, but at this point, it’s still a highly profitable industry as a whole, at least the high value permanent crops. The bigger issue is the ongoing consolidation. Less small “family” farmers and more large corporate entities, even if they are still technically “family owned.” The Wal-Mart phenomenon.

    • Gabrielle Kirkland

      December 29, 2017 at 7:33 pm Reply

      Hi Daniel – thank you for taking the time to respond. The Forry’s orchard was purchased by a farming operation that already had around 4,000 acres, allowing the new entity to scale compliance burdens. You make a good point about production agriculture — it is better described as rearrangement of crops and owners than decreasing of overall acreage in the state. Yes, consolidation is the dominant player to changes of land ownership. More land held by less, which can be argued as positive or negative. But the important point of Lincoln’s story is that he didn’t have a choice. If he stayed on the 700-acre ranch, in five years he would be upside down. What was hard for me to understand is how an efficient permanent crop, like walnuts, with the added advantage of long-term land ownership would head towards financial ruin. I feel that the regulatory bodies that put rules in place don’t intend to put family farms out of business and that is where there is a disconnect that should be remedied. Thank you for reading and responding – Gabrielle

    • Sherry Gillis

      January 2, 2018 at 10:41 am Reply

      I would think, though, that the goal would not be to drive out a family farm that has existed for over 100 years, but to keep them thriving. The rest of us are constantly moving? Not true. Some families have chosen a path or have found themselves on a path of constantly moving, but a lot of us don’t see that as being a good thing and we want to be able to remain where our families have been for generations. This is the difference between those who are more traditional and people who believe in constant change.

      What if families were told that they had to remain in one place for generations and would not be granted the freedom to move as they wished? Wouldn’t that be an infringement on their right to pursue happiness? If the government placed tax implications on families that moved around, would that be fair? How about if the government threatened to take everything the head of household owned if he or she wanted to move? Well this is the opposite.

      A wise woman once told me “You can do anything you want for the rest of your life, as long as you are willing to pay the price.” The State of California has imposed regulations that are driving family farms out of the state, while the large conglomerates will be able to cover the costs. Now, which walnuts do you want to eat? The walnuts grown by an individual farmer, the relatives and workers – or the walnuts grown by a large conglomerate? Which walnut is going to have the greatest likelihood of being well tended and grown with the health of the consumer considered?

      Its just my opinion, but I believe we are losing a terrific family, a group of smart people who care about what they are doing, who are knowledgeable in the art of growing walnuts, and who will be an asset to any community in which they settle. Furthermore, this family are losing their dream. They are losing the dream their forefathers had for them and they have been forced to move away. I don’t see this as being “par for the course.” California was once a beautiful state with everything going for it and the state is being ruined by one group of politicians that have taken control of the state and have free rein to run roughshod over it’s citizens.

  • Patricia Rynn

    January 2, 2018 at 1:54 pm Reply

    Mr. Forry– Thank you for your post and outlining all the reasons for leaving California. I was born and raised here and love this State but the politicians in charge don’t seem to mind losing farm businesses and other businesses along with thousands of jobs. Agriculture used to be the number 1 industry in this State. It makes me so sad to see multi-generational farmers leaving California.
    Pat Rynn
    Rynn & Janowsky, LLP

Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: