Growers differ over Huron deal's value

04/22/2011 02:08:45 PM
Mike Hornick

Depending on which Salinas Valley lettuce grower you talk to, April’s stopover deal in Huron, Calif., is either an untarnished gem, a business necessity, or even just a headache.

The Huron deal began around April 4. Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle, for one, planned to go through the final week of the month there.

Coastline Produce eyed April 20 for a transition to Salinas, weather permitting.

It used to be that every grower came up from Arizona through Huron. Not anymore, said Mark McBride, sales manager for Salinas-based Coastline Produce.

“As seed types developed that can withstand potentially harsh weather on the tail end of the desert deal, some shippers have elected not to have any acreage in Huron and have chosen to come straight back to Salinas,” McBride said.

“It’s a calculated risk.”

Coastline didn’t take that risk.

“Our best bet to be sure we’re there for our customer base is through Huron,” McBride said.

“It’s another step, another logistical situation. The more transitions, the greater the amount of work. But we’re committed to making sure we’ve got enough product.”

“It’s not just another stop,” said Rick Antle, chief executive officer of Tanimura & Antle.

“We’re committed to farming in that area. It’s one of our most exceptional farms for quality. We have a shipping facility and an owned ranch. It’s a key strategic area.”

But John D’Arrigo, president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, Salinas, is content to have Huron in his rearview mirror. The company ended that stop three years ago.

“Transportation, housing problems, labor supply and pest control are an entirely different game (in Huron),” D’Arrigo said.

“The whole logistical nightmare of moving an army of people and lots of equipment, you’ve got to do all that for four to five weeks. I’m surprised more haven’t dropped Huron already. It may work for others, but not for me.”

“It’s a problematic place to grow,” said Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

“We were able to get a couple of hundred acres in the King City area when we dropped Huron.”

But Duda Farm Fresh Foods, for one, still prizes Huron.

“There are people that have elected to skip it,” said Sammy Duda, vice president.

“For Duda, we still feel like it’s a valuable stop. It’s a transitional deal, so there’s more volatility than any other we have. But we never found a better alternative.”

Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative, summed up in a few words what seems to be the most common view.

“Huron is an absolute necessity,” he said.



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