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Opera star, farmer, innovator all rolled into one

Opera and farming. Rarely have these two callings been mentioned in the same breath. In fact, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say after the Man Upstairs handed out these particular talents to Zach Sheely, he broke the mold.

 Zach loves to farm and loves to sing. What a remarkable combination.

Actually, to say that Zach sings is like saying Eli Manning is a guy who plays football. Zach has reached for the pinnacle of the vocal arts. He is a professional opera star with the Golden Gate Opera in California.

How accomplished is Zach? According to the California Opera Web page, the young tenor has performed a number of leading roles included B. F. Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly. His performance was televised in the role of American painter William Keith in the American Masters national series, which was to have aired last year.

Zach is reaching for the stars in the field of precision agriculture as well.

Back home, Zach is a partner in the farming operation of his father Ted Sheely, in the San Joaquin Valley of California. They produce upland and pima cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic. Ted is a past chairman of Cotton Incorporated and is a Farm Press High Cotton alumnus, having won the award for the Western states in 1999.

Zach, speaking at the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants annual meeting, in Reno, Nev., got into precision agriculture on the family farm when he started singing opera professionally, a job that often took him halfway around the world. “While I was away, I still wanted to have contact with the farm and be involved in management decisions. Working on the farm is what pays my bills, and I love it.

“While I was gone, I noticed that things would happen, and I didn’t understand why they were taking place. I asked my dad if we could put some remote sensing units out on the farm.”

Zach, who majored in biology and chemistry in college, thought if he had better information from the sensors he could make better decisions on the farm.

But Sheely didn’t stop there. He took his passion for digital information up another octave and developed an intuitive iPad and iPhone app that will not only provide information about what is happening on a farm, and what needs to be done, but will connect a farm’s management team on a real-time basis. For more on Zach’s app, see

Farming and opera are two professions that seem as different as night and day to most. But thanks to Zach Sheely’s determined bravado to excel at them both, this is one time when they’re in perfect pitch.


TAGS: Cotton
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