Aug 1, 2022
After 100 years, Watson & Sons continues to evolve
Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor

As Jerrold A. Watson & Sons LLC continues its growing legacy of more than a century, it’s been growing organically since 2005. The Monetta, South Carolina, grower markets all its crops under the Watsonia Organics brand.

The fourth generation family-owned operation grows, packs and ships 17 crops, all USDA Organic Certified. While the Watsons began growing asparagus in 1918, it later expanded to peaches and in the early 1980s diversified its product line by growing yellow and zucchini squash, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Other items include cabbage, cucumbers, sweet corn, kale, collards, strawberries, plums and muscadine grapes.

Farming on “the Ridge,” one of the world’s most famous peach growing areas, the Watsons grow in three neighboring counties in west central South Carolina. While the counties’ climates and soils are similar, the alternate growing areas provide insurance when a pop-up shower may hit one area but skip another, said Jerrold (Jerry) Watson, Jr., co-owner.

All of Jerrold A. Watson & Sons’ peppers, squash, tomatoes, kale and peaches are grown organically. Photos: Jerrold A. Watson and Sons

Organic plunge

Growing organically since 2005, the Watsons face a myriad of challenges and a learning curve.

“Nothing has any staying power,” said Watson. “We have to spray OMRI-approved fungicides when we get fog, dew, mist or rain. It’s a never-ending saga. We never thought it would be like this when we first got into it.” There’s also more competition than when the Watsons began growing organics.

Organic farming is all trial and error. “All the cultural practices are completely different,” said Watson. “You think you will jump in here, but then realize the seed and everything else costs more. We have to get much more for our products.”

Peaches and strawberries are among the most difficult items to grow organically. If either receives rain, they won’t hold up.

Tomatoes and peppers also present challenges. “You have to really monitor your water more for tomatoes and peppers than for anything else as far as irrigation goes,” he said. “We have been having a lot of issues with peppers getting a lot of rain. You can’t put protection out there that you can with conventionally grown crops.”

Growing challenges

Labor is a big cost in organics. Watsonia uses hand labor for pulling grass. “Hand labor is the main thing with organics,” he said. “You have to go with the rows and mow.” Watsonia uses self-powered mowers for weed control. Despite the automatic power, however, an employee is required to guide the mower.

In the past, the Watsons grew 1,800 acres of peaches. Because of disappointing markets, it now grows around 380 acres. The Watsons are growing more nectarines and plums.

The recent escalation of farm inputs is also pressing growers. Watson noted some Georgia grower friends recently quit the business because “they couldn’t fight the fight anymore.” “We have gotten to the critical stage,” said Watson. “Everything we do, irrigation equipment, labor, plastic and fertilizers, it’s all going up. The numbers have to be there or you don’t exist.”

Following tough deals and low markets, Jerrold A. Watson & Sons slashed its peach acreage from 1,800 acres to 380 acres. The Watsons are growing more nectarines and plums.

100-plus years

In 1918, Joseph H. Watson, Sr., planted the first asparagus in South Carolina and was the founder and manager of the Monetta Asparagus Association. Soon after, the region became known as the asparagus capital of the world.

When the market favored New Jersey asparagus production, Watson in 1925 met with area growers and encouraged them and himself to plant 60 acres of peaches each. This sparked South Carolina’s commercial peach industry.

Mary Watson, Joseph’s wife, ran the farm after her husband died until 1945 when her son, Jerrold A Watson, Sr., returned from World War II. Jerrold ran the farm until his sons Jerrold (Jerry) Watson, Jr., and Joseph (Joe) Watson returned after finishing college.

Today, the fourth generations of Watsons, Jed Watson, Jerry’s son, and Jeph Watson, Joe’s son, and are involved in the farm’s operation.

Despite the challenges, Watson, who shops and eats nothing but organic foods, remains a strong proponent of organics. “I really believe in organics,” he said. “Health is the main thing. It has a lot to do with life. You try to watch your diet and exercise and eat as healthy as you can.”

Organic kale is a major item at Jerrold A. Watson & Sons. The Watsons grow it year-round.

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