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SW Washington berry farmer remembered as leader, mentor

Berry grower Jerry Dobbins took up farming in mid life and became a leader in the field.
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on January 16, 2018 5:26PM

Last changed on January 18, 2018 8:21AM

Southwest Washington berry farmer Jerry Dobbins, shown here talking about the 2017 blackberry crop May 24 in Woodland, died Jan. 12 at his winter home in Arizona at the age of 77. Dobbins is remembered as a leader in the field and a mentor to other farmers.

Don Jenkins/Capital Press

Southwest Washington berry farmer Jerry Dobbins, shown here talking about the 2017 blackberry crop May 24 in Woodland, died Jan. 12 at his winter home in Arizona at the age of 77. Dobbins is remembered as a leader in the field and a mentor to other farmers.

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Jerry Dobbins, who took up farming in midlife and became a prominent berry grower in southwest Washington, died Jan. 12 at his winter home in Quartzsite, Ariz. He was 77.

He was recuperating from gallbladder surgery and suffering from pneumonia, according to his son, Steve, who recalled being surprised when his father leased 8 acres in 1979 to grow raspberries. Previously, Jerry Dobbins had sold, fixed and raced motorcycles in Portland.

“Motorcycles were his life, but it wasn’t his passion,” Steve Dobbins said. “He found his passion in farming.”

Jerry Dobbins was a longtime member of the Washington State Red Raspberry Commission. He took a leading role as the industry pushed back against foreign trade practices. The U.S. Department of Commerce eventually imposed tariffs in 2002 on Chilean imports.

“He was always looking out for other farmers in the area raising berries,” said Woodland berry farmer George Thoeny. “He was always the outspoken one on the commission, the one who challenged what was being said, which I appreciated.”

The eruption of Mount St. Helens coated Dobbins’ first crop with ash. But undeterred, he bought a farm in Woodland and became neighbors with Thoeny. Later, Thoeny moved from carrots to berries and sought Dobbins’ advice.

“We relied on him heavily to get going,” Thoeny said. “If you had one acre, or five acres or 20, he would sit down and spend half a day with you if you had a question.”

Dobbins sold the Woodland farm several years ago to retire. “It never happened. He just started leasing ground, and it never stopped,” Steve Dobbins said.

Last summer, Jerry Dobbins farmed about 60 acres of blackberries in Ridgefield in Clark County. He also cultivated grass seed and ran a receiving station for other berry growers.

A few months ago, Dobbins retired from farming, turning over the grass seed acres to his grandson Kevin and the blackberry fields to his Ridgefield neighbor Brett Jones.

Jones’ grandfather was a farmer, but it was Dobbins who encouraged him to take up the profession, he said.

“He was my mentor,” Jones said. “There wasn’t anything I did that I didn’t talk to Jerry about beforehand.”

Dobbins and Jones both made the transition from raspberries and strawberries to Black Diamond thornless blackberries, hoping for better returns. “He built my confidence,” Jones said. “Over the last four or five years, it became more of a partnership.”

Dobbins grew up in Portland and went into the motorcycle business with his father, Joe. Their business was called “Kawasaki City,” Steve Dobbins said. “His dad sold the motorcycles, and he knew how to make them go fast.”

In between motorcycles and farming, Jerry Dobbins was briefly part owner of a plywood mill. He sold his share after taking up farming, his son said.

“It was a big surprise to me, I’ll say,” Steve Dobbins said. “I couldn’t figure it out. It seemed like if the crop was good, the price was down. If the price was up, the crop was down. It was either too much rain or too much sun. There was always something to challenge him, and he liked that challenge.”

Dobbins is also survived by his wife, Janet. A service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Church of the Nazarene in Ridgefield.



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