Conner Sullivan, Ridgeline Farms, Pasco, WA
With 160 acres sweeping south from the beginning of the White Bluffs, all the way to the banks of the mighty Columbia River, new Wilco members, Ridgeline Farms, call North Pasco, WA home. Robert Sullivan started the farm with dry land wheat fields in the 1950’s, which he developed into a multi-crop operation growing peas, alfalfa, sugar beets, alfalfa seed, and finally cherries before he retired for the next generation, brothers Pat, Brian and Kevin to take the lead. The brothers further diversified and as the third generation started coming into the fold, the brothers split the farm for the next set of father and son duos to run with the operation.
For Conner Sullivan and his dad Pat that has meant focusing on orchards, planting some of the first organic hazelnuts on a large scale in the Columbia River Basin two years ago. While still waiting to sell their first crop of hazelnuts, the rest of their orchard keeps them plenty busy. For many decades, that predominantly meant growing cherries and apples, but have recently expanded more into stone fruit and nut crops. In total, they grow six different varieties of cherries, apples, peaches, nectarines, and apricots. Conner explained that the labor shortage in the area is a driving force in their decision to simplify and mechanize as much as possible, which was a big factor when they decided to be one of the first farms to plant organic hazelnuts in their region.
“I grew up working on the farm starting when I was about 10-years-old and after a few years I knew I wanted to carry on the family legacy,” said Conner. A WSU Pullman alumni, graduating in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and Food Systems, and minor in Business Management, Conner immediately returned to their family farm to do just that. After getting settled into the day-to-day operation, Conner was put in charge of transitioning all of their fruit acreage, with the exception of cherries, into certified organic, a distinction that was completed in 2018. They sell all of their fruit wholesale, and a real ways one of the first growers to pick cherries thanks to the unique position of their south facing property protected by the Bluffs that help divert storms.
Conner is quick to point out that while weather is often considered one of agriculture’s greatest challenges, labor and the shipping and tariff issues mounting in the international marketplace is a growing concern. “Domestic and global markets are constantly changing in the fruit industry, especially when curveballs like the recent pandemic and changing import tariffs were thrown into the mix. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to perfectly predict the fruit markets and that creates a lot of tension in the industry year to year depending on crop size throughout the state, which directly correlates to price back to the producer.
”With Wilco being new to the area, Conner admits they mostly use the retail store for farm supply purchases, pruning and harvest tools, and the occasional bag of dog food or fishing tackle. Conner said, “I think the most beneficial part of being part of the cooperative is being able to utilize a “one stop shop” for farming where pretty much anyone in agriculture can find the various tools and supplies they need for any project they may be working on.” He added, “Wilco being farmer-owned helps me make my decision to shop there when looking for anything farm related, or even a quick grooming for the farm dog! Being a member helps with specialty pricing on volume purchase’s whether it be trellis supplies, orchard ladders, or miscellaneous supplies, and every dollar counts in farming.”