home Latest News Ram Diesel Pickup Serves As Work Truck For Former Commodities Trader Turned Michigan Apple Farmer – Forbes

Ram Diesel Pickup Serves As Work Truck For Former Commodities Trader Turned Michigan Apple Farmer – Forbes

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Chrysler Group President Tom LaSorda, right, introduces the new Dodge Ram diesel at the 2007 Washington Auto Show at the Washington Convention center in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007. DaimlerChrysler announced Tuesday it would be the first to market a diesel heavy-duty pickup truck capable of meeting strict 2010 emission standards in all 50 states. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)ASSOCIATED PRESS

Few pieces of heavy equipment are more essential to a farmer than a pickup truck.  At a 300-acre spread on Michigan’s west coast, a 2014 Ram 1500 Laramie High Country with a diesel engine serves double duty as an all-around workhorse, as well as the conveyance of Todd and Jennifer Jensen and their three teenage children to church, school and meetings at the packing house.

Todd Jensen, formerly a successful commodities trader in Chicago, and his wife, a trained microbiologist, in 2014 bought a farm in New Era, Michigan, leaving their home and suburban lifestyle in affluent Hinsdale, Illinois to take up the farming life. They now grow asparagus, which is harvested in late spring and early summer and are expanding an apple orchard.

A worker places freshly picked Gala apples into a crate at an orchard in Michigan, U.S. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP

“Trading commodities futures for 22 years, having a seat on the board of trade, you become comfortable with the risk,” he said, recalling the global financial crisis and how no amount of hedging or caution could prevent a disaster.

“We had all sorts of checks and balances. But MF Capital collapsed. (MF was improperly using customer deposits for the company’s investments, resulting in massive losses.) The board of trade chose not to step in, as it should have.  Made me step back and say, if the checks and balances were in place and they didn’t do the job, it put an exclamation point on my career.  Being a person of faith, that was shocking to me,” he said.

“A few years later, all of that made me open to change,” he said. They decided to buy the farm, employing a manager to run it. They changed direction, deciding to risk learning how to farm on their own. “A leap of faith,” said Todd Jensen.

Intrigued by a family that could forego a successful business career in favor of agriculture and rural vistas, I drove from my home in Bloomfield Hills, on the outskirts of Detroit, to the Jensen’s farm this week.  The visit also was a chance to witness how pickup trucks perform on the farm. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. kindly lent me a new 2019 Ram 3500 Limited Mega Cab 4X4 for the trip, powered by a 6.7-liter Cummins Diesel engine generating 400 hp and an over-the-top 1,000 lb-ft of torque.

Farming is a machinery-intensive and tool-intensive endeavor.  In the case of apples – table fruit as opposed to apple sauce – the Jensens are employing espalier, a method of growing fruit trees, dating to ancient times, that employs trellises to ensure that tree branches grow in narrow, longitudinal fashion rather than a traditional canopy. Espalier increases the amount of sunlight on the fruit.  “More sunlight equals more fruit,” says Todd Jensen.  “And sweeter, higher quality fruit.”

 “I enjoyed my Land Rover and drove it in Chicago but it got 13 miles to the gallon, this vehicle gets 26 or 27 miles a gallon,” he said.

Todd bought a lightly-used 2014 Ram 1500 light-duty pickup powered by a 3-liter V6 EcoDiesel, with 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque – rated to tow up to 9,210 pounds or carry 1,600 pounds of whatever.  (The pickup cost $58,000 new; Jensen found one with 7,500 miles for $42,000.)

Because roads and fields are unpaved, trucks need substantial torque and towing power to haul sprayers, wagons, plows, harvesting tools and other equipment.  When the load is heavier, or the roadways are especially muddy, some farmers resort to heavy-duty versions such as the Ram 3500 I had borrowed from Fiat Chrysler.

The nature and design of diesel engines produce more torque than their corresponding gasoline-powered engines and, therefore, are popular with truckers, ranchers, farmers and anyone using a truck for heavy work.  Diesel engines also tend to be more economical than gasoline engines in terms of fuel efficiency when used in simple transport roles.

As a novice farmer, Jensen is learning how to minimize any costs he can control – because many factors such as weather, the price of fruit and crops are out of his hands.  Not all surprises on the farm are bad: the Jensens just received news of an unanticipated $3,075 windfall as part of an $800 million settlement between the U.S. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles over illegal diesel emissions in 100,000 vehicles – which included the Jensen’s Ram pickup.

The new Ram 3500 I’m driving to “First Fruits” – the name of the Jensen farm that also is a biblical allusion – is equipped with “duallys,” a dual rear wheels that improves stability when towing extra-heavy loads such as large campers, trailers or a backhoe.

              We decide to take my pickup for a tour of Jensen’s property, setting out on a rutted, muddy road caked with snow and ice. Even in two-wheel-drive, traction was no problem. Todd Jensen opened a gated enclosure meant to limit deer and other wildlife that eat crops and contaminate the land with their dropping.  We motor slowly across a field that soon will be filled with apple trees. The 3500 feels exceptionally confident in its ability to traverse the sloppy terrain.  We’re in four-wheel-drive, low – no reason for worry. Then, as we dip into a shallow snowy swale, the vehicle comes to a stop and its wheels begin to spin. Wait, what about the 1,000 lb-ft of torque? The 400 horsepower? The dual wheels?

As we soon discover, the Ram 3500 – with all its strength and capability – is helpless when the chassis is resting on snow.  After several attempts, to rock the vehicle forward and backward slowly, it’s no use: The Jensens and I are stuck.

Jennifer Jensen at First Fruits farm in New Era, Michigan. Ram 3500 temporarily stuck in the snow.Doron Levin

Todd sets out on foot, returning soon at the wheel of his backhoe.  The backhoe’s wheels begin spinning in the wet slippery snow.  Soon, it too is stuck.

We walk back to the house a second time, this time returning in the family’s 1500 light duty with shovels, mats to place under the immovable 3500’s wheels, a tow hitch and a rescue cable.  We connect the cable, taking care not to drive a third vehicle into a jam. A bit of straining by the 1500 and – voila — we’re rolling again.

Our spirits lifted, we enjoy the late winter sun that in a few weeks will transition to spring and a reawakening of the earth.  I asked the Jensens if they missed the Board of Trade, their life in suburbia and the charms of Chicago.  I don’t have to wait for an answer: it is clear from their optimistic demeanor, pride and the enthusiasm with which they foresee the fruits (and vegetables) of this year’s labor.