Daniele Nucci: The Brotherhood of the Hay
In a business that processes hay, allergies can prove inconvenient.
Daniele Nucci’s face broadcasts his apprehension as he steps away from the shade of the office building he occupies for long hours each day. He crunches his shoes into the dusty gravel path and walks toward the hay bales up the hill.
One hand on his hip, the other swinging like a pendulum beside him, Daniele trudges toward the imminent sneezes and bloodshot eyes that accompany his job. He is co-owner of Nucci Valerio e Gianmarco S.S., a Cagliese processing plant that supplies hay for animal feed to places as close as northern Italy and as far away as Gambia, Africa. Daniele says his father passed down the hay sensitivity that keeps him on the business side of the operation, which Daniele owns with his two brothers, his three cousins, and, Daniele laments, the bank.
The plant’s 150,000-square-meter building sits at the end of a long, dirt road. Bright green grass hugs each side of the lane, and a white arrow points left, offering a printed introduction: Fratelli Nucci – the Nucci brothers. The white gravel stones outside of the office building reflect the oppressive sunrays, lighting the way to the hangar where tractor-less trailers tip clumps of hay onto the floor of the processing area. These trailers are among the 12 that haul 1,500 tons of hay from farmers to Daniele and then out to Daniele’s customers each day.
Just one hangar over, tractors heap bales of hay on top of one another, constructing a wall of grassy, soon-to-be food – walls that can stay in place for up to five months, depending upon what Daniele’s customers need. Behind that wall, brown, speckled pellets cascade onto one another, a mound of compressed hay capsules that, when mixed with straw, make protein-rich feed – another of the company’s products.
Daniele says he didn’t dream about making animal feed when he was a child. “One day, the light bulb just came on,” he recalls, raising an open palm above his head in recollection of his epiphany. “It’s because I’m the brains of the operation,” he jokes.
It has been 20 years since that brainchild was born, and, in addition to the original six partners, the family business now employs Daniele’s wife, his children, and several of his partners’ children.
This living keeps Daniele busy. Most of what he does, however, occurs in the main building, so once he’s finished visiting the plant, he marches back to the familiarity of his office. Through the garage where one of the young mechanics rolls out from beneath a massive yellow-orange tractor, up stairs and more stairs, and through a stuffy hallway, he moves with a more-decisive gait as he marches to his territory.
The walls of the small, square room are the color of mustard, a hue that competes with the black, afternoon shadows that paint the walls. From behind his massive, paper-littered desk, Daniele takes calls on his cellular phone. These calls will eventually send him on the road again. If the call directs him to Senegal, he will fly. If the call takes him somewhere else in Europe, he will drive. He says he likes it that way. For Daniele, who only takes a vacation every two to three years, a long drive is an opportunity to see more of the world.
Daniele was born in Fossombrone. He built a business in Cagli, and he says the best hay comes from Bologna. He knows the area. Daniele has relationships with farmers within a 100-kilometer radius, and 30 percent of his hay is locally grown.
Eight mechanics make sure the machines keep buzzing and clicking and sorting in the way they should, and, while some of the machines have been modernized for efficiency, the process has remained generally the same during the past 20 years, Daniele says. Approximately 60 people contribute to turning loose, rough-cut hay into the twine-wrapped bales and pressure-packed pellets that the customers keep requesting.
If all goes according to Daniele’s predictions, the customers will keep coming. Daniele hopes the next generation will one day take over the family business, he says, casting a glance at his young cousin who sits at the similarly littered desk to his right. (She answers without speaking, shrugging her shoulders noncommittally.)
Either way, the Nucci brothers will continue. Head tilted down, still-red eyes turned upward in a look teetering between resignation and comfort, he explains, “There’s always hay to be processed.”