Talking tractor with the Loneys
By Samuel James Adams
In 2022, Green Valley Tractor celebrated half a century of operation in Fairfield. This success is a testament to a business with deep roots in the community, staffed by people who understand that while agriculture runs on cycles, no cycle exactly resembles another.
“The business is very local and seasonal,” says Kim Loney, Finance Specialist at GVT. “But, being in farming, we know what those cycles are and we can prepare our staff.”
The certified Kubota dealers sell, rent, and service tractors and tractor attachments, utility vehicles, and other equipment. Today the family-run enterprise mostly caters to the booming viticultural industry centered just outside their Abernathy Road address.
But they cater to more than that.
“Mother Nature calls the shots,” says Kim.
Beyond fluctuations in the weather and natural disasters, there are market uncertainties and supply chain disruptions. Like the clients they serve, Green Valley Tractor adapts.
But Green Valley Tractor also plays a stabilizing role in the local agricultural community, offering equipment and services in a convenient location, and alleviating the strain felt by more remote agricultural operations (Solano and Napa Counties drive most of GVT’s business, but clients come in from the Sacramento foothills).
“Green Valley Tractor has built their name and reputation as a valuable and reliable equipment resource for our ag community,” says Lisa Shipley, Executive Director at the Solano County Farm Bureau, who commends the business’s generous support of their non-profit.
The Solano Land Trust is also grateful for the continuing support of Green Valley Tractor, which began by selling Ken Poerner equipment two decades ago.
“We support the mission of the Solano Land Trust because we think of it as our mission too,” says GVT’s president, and Kim’s husband, Ron Loney. “There’s no farms without land.”
Tyler, Kim, and Ron Loney of
Green Valley Tractor
A kite guards one of the
persimmon trees on the property
Orchard laborers use to stay
in these houses
GVT and Kubota both celebrated 50 years of business in America in 2022
Machines for all seasons
Green Valley Tractor sits on a thirteen-acre property with intriguing connections to longstanding Fairfield icons.
The family who farmed this property also owned the land along Chadbourne Road that would become the Budweiser factory. Opposite Green Valley Tractor, there’s an Armory Museum operated by the former owners of Jelly Belly. North of the property, recent rains have left the hills a delicious hue somewhere between jalapeno and watermelon, according to a visual review of Jelly Belly’s 50 Official Flavors chart.
On my January visit, the persimmon trees were thick with fruit nearly as bright as the Kubota equipment arrayed in rows beneath them.
“This was a working fruit ranch with cherries, peaches, pears, and persimmons,” Kim says. The fruit orchards of the past account for the strangest feature of the property: several small homes from the 1930s. These structures formerly housed seasonal laborers—and gave the Loneys' two sons an interesting childhood playground.
“Eventually, the cherries were diseased, the pears no longer had a home, peaches were at the end of their life, so we went to grapes,” says Kim.
In this transition, the property they bought in 1994 performed the changes of Suisun Valley in microcosm, as fruit orchards yielded to trellises of Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, or the Pinot Noir grown at GVT. These grapes play a key role in the sales process, as customers buying equipment get to test it around the vines and see how the machines handle (the company also trailers in tractors to different properties for demos).
Working with a crew of thirteen, GVT sells and rents “narrow tractors” that are slim enough to travel between rows of vineyards but powerful enough to handle themselves on the hills.
They closed out the holiday season selling equipment to growers making their final purchases for tax purposes. Now as vintners buy equipment or examine the calendar for good rental dates, they still don’t know what the coming year will be like, just that the last was atypically wet.
“There was a long winter with a lot of rain last year,” Ron says. “So there was a real long hang time on the vines. That made people very nervous. Everybody was like: are we ever going to harvest the grapes? But the grapes took such a long time to mature that now everyone is excited about the quality. It was a very successful year for most people.”
Traditional pest control methods are still employed on the property
Enduring values in a changing valley
GVT also sells Kawasaki utility vehicles, the nimble, four-wheelers favored by farmers and ranchers for traversing large properties. They’re useful machines for regular errands. They’re also a lifesaver in extraordinary circumstances; Kim mentions that some of the hairier escapes from recent wildfires were made on these vehicles.
Since then, the Loneys have been inspired by the proactive approach vintners and ranchers have taken: mowing grasses early, digging firebreaks, and removing brush. When asked for a product people have taken to since the fires, Kim and Ron’s son Tyler mentions the grapples used to haul out logs.
Incidentally, one of the pieces of undervine mowers that most excites Ron seems to take inspiration from extreme weather. “Last year, we had the Fischer Twister. Now we have the Tornado.”
Whatever the winds of change may bring, GVT remains grounded in community. One of the business’s favorite annual events is the Downtown Winters Tractor Parade. This year, GVT represented in style with a Kubota 50th Anniversary L6006.
“They hit 50 years the same year we did!” says Kim, speaking of Kubota’s half-century operating in America.
The persimmon trees have grown on their property longer than that, and their endurance of these fruits can come as something of a surprise.
“Stone fruits are really sensitive to weather fluctuation,” Kim says. “Persimmons are like grenades. They can just take it all.”
GVT now picks the fruits as gifts for customers. To protect the trees, a small kite on a tether mimics the movement of a hawk to frighten the starlings in a nearby field.
The flock offers a reminder that you never know what Mother Nature will throw at you. All starlings in North America descend from birds that were released in Central Park because someone wanted to populate the US with every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. Starlings now account for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual damage to agriculture.
In a line of work with challenges like that, farmers, ranchers, and vintners need dependable machines and reliable people. And for Ron, Kim, and GVT’s other eleven employees, it’s a relief to step outdoors and see a landscape of vineyards, multi-generation ranches, and green hills where the latest equipment purrs along wonderfully.