Date: May 15, 2017
Magazine:
May/June 2017

Will Feliz

President

Duncan Family Farms

Goodyear, Arizona

Director since 2016

 

FAMILY BACKGROUND: Will Feliz claims he never contemplated getting into any other line of work. He was born in El Centro, California, grew up in Firebaugh, California, and knew that agriculture would be his career. His parents met in the California desert area as his father worked in the harvesting end of the business and his mother had a position at the Mexican Consulate in Mexicali helping run the Bracero Program. After Bill and Caroline Feliz got married and chased the harvest for several years, Caroline insisted on settling down in one area. Firebaugh won the Feliz sweepstakes.

 

GROWING UP IN FIREBAUGH: After the move to California’s Westside melon district, Bill Feliz became a small entrepreneur involved in trucking, fertilizer application and harvesting. Unfortunately, he died in a tragic auto accident in the early 1990s. Son Will started working with his Dad as early as he can remember and then secured summer jobs with local melon companies. “I was immediately hooked. I knew I was going to be a produce guy.”

 

FIRST POST-COLLEGE FORAY INTO AG:  As Will was finishing up his agricultural degree at the UC Davis, he secured a three-month internship at a Pillsbury/Green Giant facility in Wisconsin. He was working with snap beans, sugar beets and corn and interacting with “some wonderful people.” As the internship came to a close, he was offered a permanent position, which would have kept him in agriculture, but more on the corporate side of the business. “I had a seminal moment. That was not what I wanted to do. Getting a job in produce was my goal. I politely declined the offer.”

 

PRODUCE CAREER WITH MANY STOPS: Will Feliz has been around the block a few times over the last 25 years. He began his produce career with Gilroy Farms. That brought him into the vicinity of the Salinas Valley, which is where he envisioned his career taking place. He then spent a couple of years with Fresh Valley Produce as a plant manager securing raw material for this vegetable processor in the very early days of the value-added boom. From there he spent about six years with Sysco’s produce division, which exposed him to farming operations from Mexico to Canada.

He came back to the value-added business for about a decade with stints at Ready Pac Produce, Chiquita Fresh, the Andrew Smith Company and River Ranch Fresh Foods. At each place he enjoyed the opportunity and the people he worked with, and increasingly moved into senior leadership positions. Both circumstances and better opportunities led to his many stops. “The common thread in my career is I have worked with a lot of great mentors and teachers. I have learned a great deal about many different facets of the business.”

The River Ranch stop ended as that company went through a re-organization, which gave Feliz the opportunity to take some time off and determine exactly where he wanted his career to go.

 

DUNCAN FAMILY FARMS: It was in 2009 that the opportunity to join Duncan Family Farms was presented to Feliz. “My wife, who had been in the industry, was familiar with the Duncan family and thought it would be a good. She had never before given me any advice about my career so I thought I should listen.”

Feliz said it has been a great decision, now going on eight years. “Arnott Duncan and the Duncan Family are great, authentic, passionate people.”

Feliz admits that moving to the Goodyear, Arizona, area was not what he had in mind when considering his next career move. “We were a little worried about the summer heat,” he quipped. “But you just have to learn to live with it. The other nine months are beautiful.”

Duncan Family Farms is a grower with a core business of supplying organic crops to many of the industry’s top value-added processors in both North America and the United Kingdom. The company is also a grower-shipper of several other crops, including strawberries, culinary herbs, kale and several chards. The firm has operations in central Arizona, Yuma, the Imperial Valley and in Tule Lake near the California/Oregon border. Goodyear is about 20 miles west of Phoenix.

 

FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE: Feliz is bullish on the future of agriculture in the western United States, noting that the business environment is friendly toward agriculture in Arizona and most of the other western states. “California has been more difficult,” he said in an understated way. But, he added that the industry is “incredibly resilient, full of fast learners and quick adapters. It may be incredibly difficult, but we will survive.”

 

WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION: “I have been going to Western Growers events for 20 years. Early in my career, I identified Western Growers as an organization that was key to the success of agriculture. Western Growers is absolutely critical to the survival of the specialty crop industry in California and the West.”

 

FAMILY LIFE: Will and Audrey Feliz have been married 17 years and have two kids: Caleb, 13, and Caroline, 12. “We are outdoor enthusiasts; we love to hike. I’m an avid golfer and both the kids are heavily involved in taekwondo.” The family lives in Litchfield Park, Arizona.

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