( The Packer )

As CEO of the JV Smith Cos., Vic Smith manages a growing operation that includes thousands of acres of both organic and conventional vegetable output.

Since 1991, he has overseen all the Yuma, Ariz.-based operation’s farming, packing and cooling operations, including over 30,000 acres of vegetable production annually.

Smith said his success as a substantial organic grower was an alignment of opportunity and being in the right place at the right time.

“I think we were very fortunate because we started working with Drew and Myra Goodman, when they were just starting out as Earthbound Farm,” he said, recalling circumstances in the mid-1990s. “And they needed winter production, and so we started growing some product for them.”

“They were growing rapidly and we became a major supplier to them for the winter deal in that time frame, and so we grew dramatically alongside it.”

Smith said organic fresh vegetables represented a chance for better returns to the grower.

“I’d like to say that it was some altruistically motivated thing, that it was good for the planet,” he said. “Quite honestly, we looked at it as an opportunity, if we could master that type of farming, we might be able to get a better margin.”

Along the way, Smith said a funny thing happened to the company in that quest for better margins.

“We gained a tremendous knowledge of organic farming and really came to embrace it.”

Smith said that of the 30,000 acres the company grows about 35% to 40% are now organic.

“So we’re very strong in conventional we believe in conventional farming,” he said.

“But we also believe in being market-focused with offering choices to our customers who are dealing with the major retailers,” he said. “We have to be prepared to do these new and different things, so it was a good move for us back in the 1990s.”

Today, Smith oversees a large operation with five major growing operations in addition to a potato packing business unit in Colorado, and a cooling division.

Two growing operations in the Salinas Valley — JV Organics and Triangle Farms — are doing about 7,000 acres.

In Yuma, the company has JV Farms, with about 10,000 acres annually of vegetable production and about 6,000 to 8,000 acres of rotation crops. The firm also has an agriculture operation in Mexico about 15 miles southwest of Yuma City, and that operation has about 10,000 acres as well.

Smith said his father, John B. Smith, founder of the company, was unfailingly optimistic and had great strength in his convictions.

“I think the No. 1 thing that I admired was his optimism,” he said. “He believed that all we had to do was start something, work hard at it, and we’re going to be successful,” he said.

“He’d always say it will work out, and by God it did,” he said.

Tonya Antle, Organic Produce Network co-founder and executive vice president, said Smith is extremely smart and passionate about the fresh produce industry. He is a risk taker but not careless about his decisions, Antle said.

She said Smith is very strategic in his decision-making.

“He’s a leader to his family, he’s the leader to his company, and I believe he’s a leader to his community and he is a leader to the organic community.”

Smith serves on the board of directors of the Western Growers Association, Center for Produce Safety and the Center for Growing Talent by PMA. He is also a member and previously served on the boards of both the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association.

Smith has been associated with his embrace of agriculture technology to help growers deal with labor shortages.

Honored for his commitment to innovation for the specialty crop industry, Smith was awarded a Forbes Impact Award at the Forbes AgTech Summit in 2017.

Smith credits the lead of Bruce Taylor, CEO of Taylor Farms, in leading the creation of the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology in Salinas.

“I followed Bruce Taylor as chairman of Western Growers and, God bless Bruce, he is flying at 60,000 feet all the time — he is an amazing visionary,” Smith said.

Smith said growers must continue to invest in technology.

“We can’t continue to go down the same path (the industry) was going because we’re going to fall off the cliff, continuing down the same path,” he said.

“We’ve got to dedicate our time and our people to commit with innovators to work together to find solutions,” he sad. “And unfortunately, I think we got a late start, we’re not moving fast enough.”

At the same time innovation is necessary, Smith said the industry must tell its story and create meaningful guest worker reform.

“We really haven’t expressed to the American public what an extremely important situation it is to get a workable guest worker program.”

At the same time, Smith said investing in educating and training existing farm workers also is critical.

“I believe we’re going to have a much more productive workforce, and we’re going to need very well trained people that are going to work out in an open-field environment,” he said.

“I think our challenge is developing the workforce that’s going to lead us forward for the next 10 to 20 years,” he said.

With that commitment, he said that the industry will have success.

“We have to respect the people’s talents, we have to help educate them, we have to help motivate them and we will ride out this looming crisis together with more productivity and more help.”