Faces of the Farm: Zack Troyer - Field Operations
Zack Troyer works on the Field Operations Team for Lazarus Naturals Farm, and this year is his first harvest season. It’s not his first gig on a farm, as he spent ample time on his family’s potato farm in Pennsylvania.
Zack made his way west after college with the goal of picking up some work on a farm, potentially in Colorado, but ended up heading further west to central Oregon. It was here that he recently joined the Lazarus Naturals farm operation, bringing his agricultural expertise, sharp mind and strong back to the hemp fields of Lazarus Naturals. We spoke with him during the cutting and field drying on a crisp, clear afternoon in mid-October.
Q & A
Q: What’s some of the things you do at Lazarus Farms?
Zack: I work on the field operations teams doing some operating, doing some agronomy, doing some soil science, working with the field team, you know, a lot of different areas. I [also] work with the plant team.
Q: So you do a lot of stuff.
Zack: Yeah, I cover a lot of ground.
Q: How did you first hear about Lazarus Naturals?
Zack: So actually, just this winter I was looking for a transition. I come from the potato industry. There's just a lot of hype about hemp, of course, with everybody. So, my family started looking into it, because my dad wanted to grow some of it and the more I read about the different companies, pretty much the only name that I heard that was like a legitimate company that anybody had anything good to say was Lazarus Naturals. And it just so happened I was looking for a new direction for my career. It was just a great opportunity and I ended up out here in Bend.
Q: Where are you originally from?
Q: Oh wow. So you came from the East Coast?
Zack: Yeah, yeah we were moving west anyways but I thought it was gonna be Colorado, because I work in [agriculture]. I’m a professional farmer. I thought I would have to go where all the ag jobs were but it turned out Oregon was where I came.
Q: Did you think that you were going to end up on a hemp farm?
Zack: Yeah, no, I was just going to go and, you know, either work in agronomy or work for a large potato farm.
Q: So when you came to Lazarus was there a position open or did you reach out to them first?
Zack: Yeah. There was a position open. I’m not gonna say it's been like one position necessarily that I’ve done. I think everybody does a lot here and you see Evan (Skandalis, VP of Farm Operations) out in the field. Sequoia (Price-Lazarus, CEO of Lazarus Naturals) gets out there.
Q: So what makes working at Lazarus appealing?
Zack: Honestly, I just felt comfortable with them as a company because, you know, just look at the website. The values. You don't see any other company with inexpensive products that are legitimate. And then also, you know, the discounts for the people who actually need them. As opposed to everybody else I ran into, they’re just so sketchy. You know, there's a lot of people that are just here for the gold rush. I wouldn't have worked for anybody in the industry that wasn't legitimate. I kind of found one company that is. I feel really lucky to be here right now.
Q: What's a typical day like for you during harvest?
Zack: Right now, I mean we just started three days ago. So, this is the first stage - cutting. Me and a couple of the other guys are just trying to keep everything rolling smooth from this field team. Just really trying to focus on getting everything everybody needs, and try to make it as easy as possible, as comfortable as possible because it's hard work.
Q: Now what's the differences between working on your standard farm - since you have that background - and working on a hemp farm?
Zack: Yeah it's different. My family's farms completely mechanized.
Q: A hundred percent?
Zack: A good part of it. There's some hand sorting and a little bit of manual labor, as far as separating out different things. But all the harvest is mechanical, you know, big conveyor systems and stackers and industrial equipment that processes the crop. So that differs from this. There's not as much manual labor.
Q: So there's definitely more of that here.
Q: Now is that because, from what I understood and from some of the intel I got, it's because there's not really tools yet for hemp. Is that kind of the case?
Zack: No, I mean what, there's three or four years that people have been doing this. A normal large scale crop has been around for 100 years, and evolved with all the farm equipment. So, if you look back, seventy years ago, not even that long, fifty years ago, they were harvesting potatoes by hand.
Q: So we're kind of right there in a lot of ways, we're a little bit behind the times in terms of technology?
Zack: Yeah, It's just not there.
Q: What's some of the things that you could see being beneficial for hemp farming in terms of technology?
Zack: This is my personal opinion, not saying that this is going to necessarily happen, but there's going to be a machine there's going to be a stripping machine that just strips the whole plant, wet. And then that material’s gonna go back to a drying facility, as just the flower.
Q: Not like how we do now, like right now. This field is being dried in the field. As opposed to being put into a barn or drying area. Have you seen this kind of work before or is this new to you, this approach?
Zack: I mean I've worked with hay before, that you field dry, but that's not a high value crop. I don't think there's any crops that’s worth as much as this that you'd be doing out in the field at risk of weather. But also at the same token, if you take it back to a barn there's a lot of loss involved. You know, they handled plants five or six times, from what it sounds like last year. And every time you touch those plants, you're going to lose trichomes, it just floats away.
Q: That's that's the part of the plant that is most valuable because that's what the oil is. That's what the CBD is. So the goal is to try to get the crop off the field with the least amount of damage?
Zack: Yeah, that's the way it is with a lot of crops. I mean like with potatoes we're crazy about bruise, but it's just a whole different set of procedures for handling something bulk like this.
Q: So after harvest, what do you end up doing, what's next for you outside of harvest at the farm?
Zack: I think there is going to be a lot of planning, it's probably going to be, I mean, we're going to have a lot of work to clean up after this because we get to pull all these beds up. Try to plant a cover crop and try to prepare for next year because we're going to farm the same fields again.
Q: Is that something that's troubling with hemp, simply because of crop rotation?
Zack: Yeah. You gotta rotate.
Q: And that's what the cover crop is basically trying to do?
Zack: It helps, it isn't a replacement. But it certainly helps. But there's going to have to be crop rotation.
Q: Now what happens over the course of time if crop rotations aren’t done? Are you just getting smaller yields?
Zack: You get smaller yields because different diseases and pests are building up. It's not good for the soil biology because you're going to one crop after another, same thing. Yeah, there's no diversity in that rotation. And then also, there's some nutrients stuff a lot of people say, “Oh there's one crop that will pull all the nutrients out of the ground, we can replace that.” But there's no cure for soil-borne diseases.
Q: How much is the mycelium in the soil factor into any of this?
Zack: There's many schools of thought on that. That's a pretty new area of science, I mean there's tons of people out there now selling beneficial mycelium and bacterial inoculate to, you know, help with different functions.
Q: But the best thing is just to rotate.
Zack: Yeah, the best stuff is the tried and true. You know old school farming techniques.
Q: Do you, in your experience, think that there are specific crops that would be good to rotate with hemp or does it matter?
Zack: Generally, it works best the further away you get from that crop as far as the type of crop it is. So, it's a it's a broadleaf crop, it's a dicot. You want to go to a monocot, a grass crop. Generally, the further away you get, you know, just as a species, there's just going to be less crossover between pathogens that would infect both. So, yeah, that's why like Midwest, it’s corn, soybeans. Yeah, very different crops. And they work well together because they're so different.
Q: So, with hemp, do you know if there's like kind of a class of crops that are being looked at for that rotation yet?
Zack: I think it's really just going to come down to what's being grown in that area already. Grass, alfalfa, corn, potatoes, there's definitely a lot of potato guys that are going to be growing hemp.
Q: So would you rotate them by year or can you grow the other crops after the hemp is cleared?
Zack: Yeah, not in this area. Most places, you’re just going to get one crop, especially as long as hemp season is. I mean, it's pretty much as long as your season is, you know. Whenever the daylight changes. So if you plant it earlier you just probably get an extra month of growth.
Q: Thanks for your time, Zack, I’ll let you get back to work now.
Zack: Thank you.