ORANGE COVE, Calif. — The late Franklin Otis Booth Jr. — Otis to his family, friends and acquaintances — knew plenty about radar. After all, he was in his 80s before he surrendered the controls of his Lear jet to a younger pilot.
Booth Ranches LLC, which he founded in 1957, has in recent years quietly become one of California’s major citrus grower-packer-shippers.
“We grew below the radar by design,” said Loren Booth, Otis Booth’s daughter, a fifth-generation native Californian and now owner of the citrus company.
Otis Booth was a business executive when he inherited a 40-acre citrus grove in 1950. That original grove remains among the company’s productive farmland. It is known simply as Ranch 40, Loren Booth said.
Today, Ranch 40 is a small slice of the 8,500 acres of Booth Ranch navels, valencias and specialty citrus in the San Joaquin Valley from Fresno County south into Kern County.
As his investments skyrocketed Otis Booth’s wealth into the Forbes 400, oranges became a passion.
“Land and a growing business and farming on the land is something rather more tangible than a securities portfolio,” Booth told Forbes magazine in 2005.
As some growers switched to other commodities, Booth remained committed to citrus, Loren Booth said, though he did add a cattle ranch in 1971.
Adding acreage and marketing fruit grown only by the company helped make it a truly independent grower-shipper.
“The beauty of who we are is that we can pick only when it’s right,” Booth said. “The focus is always on flavor, on consistently good-eating oranges.”
That’s why Booth Ranches grows the somewhat rare spring variety among its various navel oranges, a decision made a few years ago when Loren Booth was sampling fruit on one of the ranches.
“One taste told me this was a keeper variety,” she said.
Quick decisions are earmarks of the independent, family-owned operation. There is no board of directors. There are no committees to weigh options.
“There’s no red tape here,” Loren Booth said.
Another advantage, said Neil Galone, vice president of sales and marketing, is that Booth’s residence is just a few hundred yards from the company’s headquarters.
“She’s never more than a few minutes away,” he said.
While Otis Booth built the foundation, Loren Booth, the company’s general manager until her father’s death in 2008, has been the architect of growth this century.
After acquiring a Porterville citrus packinghouse three years ago, Booth Ranches purchased the Sunny Cove packinghouse in Orange Cove last year.