64-year-old Roberto Fred works 17-hour days at his farm, Roberto Fred Farms, in Dunkirk. His 350-acre property is home to a grape vineyard and the recent surplus is close to putting his business under.
“They keep saying hang in there but it’s tough to wait. With no money coming back to pay mortgages and labor costs it’s tough to wait," Fred said.
He used to own 700 acres but had to sell half of it off just to keep a positive cash flow. Fred sells to large juice corporations like Welch's and Refresco and until recently they operated on a contract. Where he used to sell Refresco 2500 tons of grapes for $400 per ton, he now sells them 1000 tons for $117 per ton, without a contract.
The massive surplus of grapes has forced prices down and Fred has turned to diversifying his crops. He now harvest tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and more on 40 acres in order to make sure he makes it to grape season.
“It makes me feel awful, I don’t want to be a farmer anymore," Fred said. “I thought grapes were going to stay here forever, and maybe they will but only the big guy with a lot of acreage will survive.”
Fred came to the United States from Puerto Rico in 1969 where he worked for his mentor, Russell Joy, who used to employ his father. According to Fred, they had a father-son relationship and eventually, in 1990, Joy sold Fred 700 acres of his land.
When asked how he acquired such a massive property, Fred responded simply.
"On a handshake, we did paperwork later."