Uesugi Farms, Morgan Hill, Calif., is expanding its cooler capacity and acreage by capitalizing on decreased competition among San Joaquin Valley pepper growers.

The company upgraded its cooling capacity from more than 7,000 square feet between two facilities near Gilroy to opening a 25,000-square foot cooler in May, said Pete Aiello, co-owner and general manager.

All three coolers will operate simultaneously, Aiello said, in time for the mid-June start of production for the company’s biggest commodities: bell peppers and chili peppers.

“We just moved into a couple of weeks ago, which was a great day and a cause for much celebration,” Aiello said.

The cooler was seven years in the planning and permitting process, Aiello said, and houses two rooms — one 33 degrees and one at 45 degrees — to store a range of products the company growers from napa cabbage to strawberries to bell peppers.

Aiello said the two smaller coolers were inadequate to handle the volume of produce, causing two-hour waits for cooling before shipping. The new cooler has six forced-air chambers, Aiello said, to ensure product gets in and out quickly, and is ammonia cooled with remote access to the facility’s temperature settings.

“We really overkilled with the forced air,” Aiello said.

The smaller coolers will be used primarily for storing peppers sold to canneries and processors, Aiello said.
The cooler’s completion coincides with Uesugi Farms expanding its overall acreage from 1,000 acres to 1,500 acres, upping volume for peppers and chilies in the San Joaquin Valley.

Aiello said the company grows peppers on land with a steady supply of groundwater, which let the company pick up extra customers from growers forced to scale back or stop growing due to severe cuts in water allocations.
“For one season that’s a big leap for us,” Aiello said.

Since the cooler opened, Aiello said Uesugi Farms has been hydrocooling cherries for Delta Packing Co., Lodi, Calif., but doesn’t have plans to lease out any cooler space once pepper production picks up.

According to the company, Uesugi Farms expects to ship more 4,000 truckloads of produce this year and also expects its revenue to grow by 10%, reaching $50 million in 2009.