One can imagine that years ago, a traveling seed salesman might have gone from farm to farm on horseback peddling seed for one crop or another to farmers looking for the next best thing.
Of course, times have changed with multi-national seed companies spanning the globe and retailers, processors and shippers all weighing in on what crop to grow, what variety to use and what time frame to have it harvested. While that’s all true, a survey of several grower-shipper-processors in the industry revealed that the solitary grower can still exhibit a lot of influence over what he grows and where he plants it.
In fact, it appears as if there is no one size, fits all process in the row crop business.
One executive who asked not to be identified with his remarks said it all depends on the culture of the company. “We are grower-oriented so the growers make the decisions,” he said.
While he said there is discussion about the crops to grow, the growers typically pick the variety and grow what they think suits their land the best.
This executive said there are several grower-centric companies in the industry with extensive product lines that allow the grower to have a lot of flexibility. “It’s much different if you are on the value-added or processing side of the business,” he said.
Bruce Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Taylor Farms, Salinas, CA, agreed with that assessment. However, he said there is still a modicum of flexibility.
As a very larger producer of bagged salad items, Taylor Farms is looking for specific production of specific crops on a daily basis. “Certain varieties do better for what we are looking for so we do specify varieties,” he said. “However, it is a collaborative effort. Growers know best what are the best varieties for their land so they do weigh in on the decision.”
Kyle Smith of Fresh Innovations in Yuma, AZ., said they are a very large grower that grows crops for many different shippers – both for the fresh market and for the processor. While what crop to grow is a collaborative effort, he said, for the most part, “we pick the variety. They (the shipper or processor) contract with us for a specific crop during a specific time period and we pick the variety. Sometimes, they say they will buy the seed because they can get a better deal but we are large enough that we get the best deals.”
Smith, who has been working with his father, Vic Smith, for the past decade, agreed that it is very collaborative. He said often times a shipper wants to get into a commodity or try a new product “so they will come to us and ask us if we are interested.”
In some case, it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, he said there is a growing trend toward Brussels sprouts “but that’s a very tough crop to grow down here (in the desert).”
Consequently, there would have to be lots of negotiations before they put that in the ground. As long-time growers with many years of experience on their own land, Smith said they are the experts as to what varieties they grow best. He said as growers, the firm is in constant contact with seed companies trialing new varieties so they are typically a step ahead of the game.
Still another grower-shipper takes a different approach to the situation. Steve Danna of Danna & Danna Inc. Yuba, CA, said they grow most of their own production “but we do work with four or five outside growers. “ While there is some collaboration, he said Danna & Danna executives pick the varieties they want to grow on their own land and their outside growers basically follow suit. “They grow what we grow. Typically we provide them with the seed.”
He said a grower is not going to get in this situation if they don’t have the right land and microclimate for whatever variety the firm wants. He said growers still decide what they want to grow by determining who they are going to work with. But Danna said the days of an independent grower putting a crop in the ground on pure speculation are well in the rear view mirror. “There is enough speculation involved in just raising the crop when you know where it is going,” he quipped.
Ryan Talley of Talley Farms in Arroyo Grande, CA, said it is a collaboration between growers and shipper but operating in the relatively small micro-climate of Arroyo Grande, he said certain varieties work better than others. “Our growers see what we are growing and they mostly grow the same varieties,” he said. “But the grower makes the decision as to what he wants to grow. He knows his land.”
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