Daniel E. Simmons
Daniel E. “Dano” Simmons, Jr. likes the diversity of each work day on the apple orchard. “You have an idea of what you’re going to do when you get in in the morning, but that usually goes out the window by about 8:10. Even if you’re doing the same job description, every day is different.” But, one thing is consistent, Dano adds with a chuckle, “There are not many days when I come home with clean clothes!”
He may not be scared of getting dirty, but Dano comes from a long line of thinkers – men who have come up with great ideas to build a successful family business: Ohio’s Peace Valley Orchard, which can boast that it has owned the most apple plant patents in the world when it comes to private orchards.
The thought process behind Peace Valley started with Dano’s grandfather. The elder Simmons, Daniel J., ran a truck farm in Pittsburg—and yes, despite my rural roots, this Georgia gal had to ask what a truck farm is! Essentially, a “truck farm” is a vegetable farm that grows anything you can pick, put on the back of truck, and take to market to sell immediately. Vegetables were picked and hauled into the city on the back of the truck and sold up and down the streets. Keep reading—I also learn what a “spur” is…
Daniel J. had two sons who soon would need employment and permanent professions—Daniel E. (Dano’s dad) was about to graduate from Penn State with a degree in Fruit Tree Science and Don likewise, was graduating high school and looking to continue working in the family business. But, the city was slowly encroaching on the truck farm, so Daniel J. had a great thought: It was time for a change.
In 1948, Daniel J. bought an abandoned orchard further away from the big city, 117 acres located in Rogers, Ohio, 15 miles south of Youngstown and about an hour northwest of Pittsburg just across the Ohio line. The orchard that he purchased for his sons literally overlooked Peace Valley, so when Daniel E. looked down into the dell, he thought, “What better name than Peace Valley?”
Simmons, Sr., and his sons worked on the orchards, which had lain vacant for three years, and cleaned them up to the point where enough apples could be harvested their first year to keep going the second. The bulk of the work meant taking out old trees and planting new, better variety trees. Eventually, those acres were clean and productive—and grew in size to today’s 288 acres.
Family involvement in the orchard continued to grow also, with sons of the two sons coming on board in the early ’70s. Dano went to Ohio State and, like his dad, graduated in Fruit Tree Science, and brother Paul just two years before had graduated from Michigan State Ag Tech and returned to the orchard. With Dano being last child to return to Peace Valley, he says he wasn’t given many options on what his role there would be. Paul was already in charge of orchard operations—harvesting and planting—and sister Carol started running the family’s retail market in 1973, so Dano took on packing, storage and other general responsibilities. When his father retired in 1990, he inherited much of the operation’s business side. Dano says he’s mostly progressed to where he’s, “the catch-all, get-it-done guy.”
Peace Valley now owns five patented apple varieties—a very high number considering Peace Valley is not a big corporation or breeding program. And, the patents are for mainstay varieties with which we’re mostly familiar:
1. Law Spur Rome – A chance spur of a Rome apple patented in 1974. Daniel E. sold the patent and used the profits to put Dano and Paul through college.
For those like this writer who didn’t know what a spur is: Most standard apple trees bear fruit on “terminals,” or the tips of the tree. To allow these trees to grow bigger for optimum production, they have to be planted far apart. A spur tree, however, can produce all along its branches down to the trunk, allowing more fruit to grow per tree and closer planting for more trees per acre.
2. Spark Spur Rome – Another spur Rome found by the Simmons, more of a dwarf tree. Sold to Stark Brothers nursery as the Spark Spur Rome.
3. Golden Glory Golden Delicious—The Smoothie Golden Delicious was not spurred. The Simmons found a chance tree that was a spurred smoothie.
4. Buckeye Gala—Believe it or not, a Mich. State fan named this “sport,” or mutation of a variety (in this case, Gala), after the Buckeye State. Because the Simmons spend a lot of time walking their orchards, they’ve been very fortunate to find many sports and thus be able to patent them. The Buckeye, an all-red sport of the Imperial Gala, is one of the most planted galas in the world—if not the most. With the Buckeye, the Simmons thought to start collecting a royalty percentage on each plant sold rather than sell the patent outright, which has allowed them to invest back into their business.
5. Dandee Red—A purple-red, summer-type, Paula Red apple sport. The Dandee is great during its season and will keep for a month, whereas Paula Reds typically store only around a week.
In keeping with current growing trends, Peace Valley is reducing its apple acreage and increasing production per acre—in other words, doing more with less. By employing high-density planting, they’ve eased down from a 40 by 40-foot planting formation to 14 by 3-foot on trellis. A sign of the changing times, the Simmons have been installing their first trellises after using metal, T-fence posts, where one post is used per tree, for years until high steel prices finally inspired the switch.
Beyond his duties at Peace Valley, Dano serves on the board of Mid-West Apple Improvement Association (MAIA), the purpose of which is to develop new apple varieties to collectively enhance the profitability for grower members. He is able to bring the growers’ perspective to the association and sort out how to bring financial returns from new varieties directly back to the grower. When one of the members discovered a new sport, Dano was actually the one to name the long-storing apple—the EverCrisp, which now has commercial plantings going out in 2015 and 2016.
Dano takes pride in being a third generation apple farmer but says he originally returned to Peace Valley because the options other graduating students were taking—like working for department stores or at insurance agencies—didn’t seem as appealing as coming back where he knew he’d have a job and knew it was something he enjoyed. He’s enjoyed it so much through the years that his most recent concern has been what would happen to the family business when he and his siblings retire.
Each of Paul and Dano’s three kids (six total) have pursued other interesting and altruistic careers with no plans to take on orchard operations, but Carol’s youngest son Aaron, an auto mechanic, recently stepped up to the plate and has brought with him new perspective and ideas for the orchard. Right now, Peace Valley is collecting bids on a modern electronic sizer for the packing shed. It’s an exciting time for Peace Valley—full of new thoughts and promise for the future! But, if history serves to tell, Dano will most likely still be getting his clothes dirty helping out even after retirement.