If desert carrot production is a sign of things to come, then the ensuing Kern County, Calif., crop should yield a nice supply of quality product.
Bakersfield, Calif.-based Bolthouse Farms was digging carrots in the Imperial and Coachella valleys in mid-April and expected to begin harvest in Kern County by mid-May, said Scott LaPorta, chief operations officer/chief financial officer.
So far, quality looked excellent.
“In my five years here, this is the best winter crop — just outstanding quality and outstanding yields across all the different types of carrots,” he said of desert production.
LaPorta attributed it to improved scientific knowledge about carrots.
“We continue to refine our growing acumen, developing new seeds and picking the right seed to grow at the right time of year in the right soil,” he said.
Water in Kern County hasn’t been an issue as the company has deep wells on which it relies.
Nevertheless, LaPorta said Bolthouse has reduced acreage in Kern County and continues to diversify production into other regions of the country to mitigate risk.
“The anchor will be Kern, but we’ve reduced our land base in Kern and increased our land base in Salinas,” LaPorta said.
The company also has production in Atwater, Calif., north of Kern County where the water situation isn’t as tight as the south San Joaquin Valley.
In addition to its historical winter production in the Imperial Valley, Bolthouse also had production in the Coachella Valley as well as west of Phoenix, this season.
The company also expanded production in Georgia.
Sales of its conventionally grown cello-packed carrots, value-added peeled baby carrots and matchsticks and chips has been growing at a single-digit rate, LaPorta said. Sales of the same products, organically grown and marketed under the Earthbound Farms brand, has grown at a double-digit clip.
Kern Ridge Growers, Arvin, Calif., also was digging carrots in the Imperial Valley in mid-April with good quality, said Andrew Bianchi, sales manager.
“Everything we have down there is coming along nicely,” he said.
The grower-packer will then transition into Kern County fields, which appeared in mid-April to be slightly ahead of schedule. Harvest should begin the last part of May or early June.
In addition to hand-packed cello bags and cartons of carrots, Kern Ridge also offers a line of value-added carrot products, including cut and peeled baby carrots in various sized bags and a 12-ounce microwaveable bag.
In addition, Kern Ridge Growers has an organic line of carrots and value-added products that continues to grow.
“We do see good movement in that category,” he said.
“I think a lot of the organics are sold and go into the markets where people are using them for home juicing.”
Demand for carrots continues to increase from retail and foodservice, Bianchi said.
“It seems like people are more health-conscious,” he said.
As the economy improves, so does the foodservice side of Kern Ridge’s business.
“I think the economy is stable enough that people are going out to eat more,” he said.