Eight years ago, a young man in his 30s traded in his business suit and office job in a high-tech industry to return to his farming roots in the south of Taiwan.
“I didn’t want to see my father’s life’s work go to waste,” said Wang Po-chun (王鉑鈞), whose family are pomelo farmers in Madou District (麻豆),Greater Tainan.
Wang gave up his career to run his family’s pomelo farm when his father was no longer able to do so.
Standing in front of a pile of recently harvested big, white pomelos, Wang smiled and said: “In the past, I wore business suits and black leather shoes to work and though I was successful, I didn’t feel like I belonged. Now, walking on familiar ground, I feel much better, more grounded.”
Wang was born in 1973 and graduated with a degree from Tamkang University’s Department of Transportation Management. After graduating, he started working as a software engineer at a high-tech company. He also worked in LED lighting sales in China. Like his college friends, he dreamed of starting his own business in the high-tech sector.
However, in 2004, Wang’s plans changed when his father began experiencing health problems, rendering him unable to tend to the farm. Wang reluctantly decided to return home to run the farm.
“It was a cruel thing, having to give up the career that I had put so many years of work into,” he said.
After he took over the farm, Wang learned the true meaning of the old Chinese adage: “Different trades, worlds apart.” He had to work hard to become proficient in agriculture, saying he had not realized before that there was so much more to it than just fertilizing and watering plants.
“When I was younger, I helped out on the farm during harvest season after school, but since I started doing it full time, I became aware that agriculture is not as simple as I had once thought,” Wang said.
To make up for his inexperience, the novice farmer went back to school to study agriculture. He enrolled in a post-graduate program while simultaneously taking undergraduate courses to pick up the credits required to earn a degree in agriculture.
Wang also put his previous educational and professional experience good use by applying managerial techniques and methods to the running of the farm.
For example, Wang gave each pomelo tree on the farm a number because “the trees have different ages, growth patterns and health, so the fertilizer mix you give them has to match each individual tree’s needs. Numbering the trees is the first step toward the proper management of a pomelo farm.”
“It is not possible for the farm owner to always be on the front lines, so numbering the trees allows me to get more accurate information when talking to the fruit pickers and enables me to closely monitor the quality of the pomelos,” he added.
After making an index of all the trees on the farm, Wang categorized the harvested fruit according to quality, which he said gives the consumer confidence that they are making an informed purchase.
“The pomelo market in Taiwan is almost saturated, but high-quality pomelos are always in demand. The only future for pomelo farmers is to produce the top-class fruit that consumers want,” Wang said. “Farmers are not just producers, we are also in the service industry.”
The biggest difference between younger farmers and older ones is in their degree of knowledge about promotion and sales, Wang said.
He said that older farmers have not developed channels through which to sell their produce, so the middle-men and distributors that they employ have the upper hand in negotiating prices.
The situation is changing because younger farmers are turning to the Internet and social media to promote and sell their products, creating a market for more reasonably priced agricultural produce, Wang said.
“Farmers should not see their trade solely from the perspective of a producer, they must also be adept at promotion, sales and product packaging. This way, they can deal with consumers directly and control their product from planting to sale,” Wang said. “The agricultural industry can still generate profits that rival those of high-tech companies, if one puts one’s heart into it.”
Recalling his reluctance to quit his office job eight years ago, Wang said that compared with having to do stressful work late at night and sleep during the day, farming was much less mentally exhausting.
“Running a farm requires a lot of physical exertion, but it is fulfiling and I love feeling close to the land. Traveling constantly when I was a software engineer made me feel like a drifter with no roots,” Wang said. “I can also look after my parents now, so I don’t regret embarking on this new career path.”