BRIGHTON, CO — Though he’s stopped short of retiring after more than six decades at the helm of Sakata Farms in Brighton, CO, Bob Sakata has passed the mantle of his operations to son Robert T. Sakata.
The elder Mr. Sakata, an icon in American farming, was born and raised in northern California, and because his parents came from Japan, he and his family were relocated — along with some 120,000 other Japanese Americans — to internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor. His internment was spent in Utah.
When World War II ended, Mr. Sakata moved to Colorado, reunited with his family and began farming in the fertile region north of Denver.
The operation grew from 40 acres to 2,400, and under his direction, the crops expanded to include Mr. Sakata’s famed sweet corn, onions, broccoli and cabbage.
As he farmed, Mr. Sakata also served on a variety of boards and commissions.
He is a past president of the National Onion Association and the National Sugar Beet Growers Association.
He has served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and he has sat on the Cooperative Extension Advisory Board at Colorado State University.
Additionally, he has held the director’s seat for an irrigation ditch company providing water to farms along Colorado’s Front Range.
A member of the Adams County Economic Development Board and the Colorado Food Safety Task Force, Mr. Sakata also served as local school board president.
R.T. takes over
The 85-year-old farmer told The Produce News June 22 that his son Robert, known as R.T., has “taken over.”
Mr. Sakata said, “I don’t do any of the everyday business now. In fact, I’m somewhat of a glorified consultant.”
And with his trademark smile, he continued, “When I view the fields, it sort of hurts my feelings. They’re doing a better job than when I was in charge.”
Still, he said, “Personally I’m blessed. I am 85, and I have a reason to get up every morning.”
He continues to sit at the desk he’s occupied for years, and he stops conversations to listen to the farm’s radio communications among workers.
One of those workers is Ray Kniss, son of Adam Kniss. Adam Kniss had worked for Sakata Farms for 55 years and retired in 2010 as production manager. R.T. Sakata, now president, promoted Ray Kniss from a position in sales and plant supervision to production manager, Bob Sakata said.
“He’s in the fields now and will be in the sales office in November,” Mr. Sakata said.
Bob Sakata still has his finger on the pulse of the fields, even if he doesn’t visit them daily. “It was a cold spring, and we’re a week behind a normal year,” he said.
Cabbage will come in during late June and hit volume after July 4. Sweet corn will start shipping around July 20, split between yellow and bi-color. Onions will begin shipping mid-August and run into March, he said.
“No man is smart enough to predict the market, and the best way to be a winner is to have product every day,” he said. “You hit the highs and the lows, and you need quality every day.”