Date: Jul 01, 2014
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LaBrucherie Produce

El Centro, CA

Member Since 1956

 

THE BEGINNING OF THE LINE:  Shortly after the turn of the 20th Century Jean Pierre LaBrucherie immigrated to the United States and landed in Los Angeles, where he practiced his craft as a butcher.  He settled into a community of French immigrants and it was not too much later (around 1912), that there was a movement by his fellow countrymen to move down to the Imperial Valley and set up shop in that desert community.

His great grandson, J.P. LaBrucherie, who was named after his ancestor, said the original Jean Pierre came to El Centro and seized upon the opportunity to start a dairy and begin farming.  Subsequently, his son, Matt, followed the farming path staked out by his father and continued the farming tradition.  Tim LaBrucherie followed his father, Matt, into the business, and now J.P. represents the fourth generation working the land in the Imperial Valley.

A SWITCH TO VEGETABLES:  When Matt LaBrucherie took over the reins of the firm, he steered the company toward vegetable production.  It was the early 1950s, and Matt believed that offered the brightest future for the firm.  The company has consistently and successfully grown fresh produce every year with the operation now celebrating more than 60 years in the vegetable business.

During that time period LaBrucherie Produce has concentrated on the growing end of the business, leaving packing and shipping to others.  J.P. said the firm has grown crops for many of the top shippers.  “My grandfather grew for Bud Antle and we also had a very long relationship with Mills Distributing.”  Currently they grow for many different companies as J.P. ticked off a list of more than a handful of their current farming partnerships.  He said the company’s business model involves developing relationship with shipper partners and mutually determining the best crops to grow.  “But if you had to pick who was making the decisions, I’d say our shipper partners are telling us what to grow with our blessings.”

The company’s core vegetables are iceberg lettuce, romaine and spinach but over the years they have also grown a plethora of other crops, including green leaf, red leaf and butter lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, spring mix, rutabagas, asparagus, parsnips, peanuts, black eyed peas, potatoes, red peppers, turnips, corn, onions, squash, watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydews.

THE SUCCESSION PLAN: “The way we have operated is that each generation works until they die and then the next generation takes over,” quipped J.P.

He said that is what happened with his father and grandfather and he suspects that is what will happen with him and his father, Tim.  “My father, who is 67, said he wouldn’t know what to do if he quit.”

Tim joined the family firm in the 1970s.  After Matt’s death in 2001, he continued the produce growing traditions that he and his father built.  In 2003, J.P. came to work for the company.  He said he and his father collaborate on decisions but Tim is “the decision maker but we really agree on everything.”

J.P., however, said the firm is continuing to expand and at a little bit quicker pace since he got involved in the decision-making process.  He added that that pattern has defined the company since its beginnings.  Each subsequent generation has grown the business.

THE VALUE OF EDUCATION:  One thing that is a bit unique about LaBrucherie Produce is that the principals are very well educated, yet they do not have an ag degree between them.  Tim earned an accounting degree from the University of Southern California and a law degree from Stanford University.  J.P. also earned an accounting degree from USC, followed by a law degree from the University of Notre Dame.  Both Tim and J.P. continue to maintain their C.P.A. and law licenses.  Both men pursued those educational goals but expected to bring that knowledge back to the farm…and they did.

“Accounting is very important to running a business,” said J.P.  “It’s a very valuable background especially considering the tiny margins that we operate on.  And from a legal standpoint you can’t go wrong with a law degree.  It is very important to help manage the risk” inherent in farming.

But J.P. freely admits that his pursuit of education was greatly influenced by the path blazed by his father.  “I look up to my father.  I saw what he did and said I want to do that.  I saw the value in that path.”

For a while after attaining his degrees, J.P. did work at the accounting firm of Deloitte and was able to practice tax law at the same time.  But he assumed that he would come back to the farm to carry on the tradition.  However, he says he was never forced into it.  “It was my decision.”

And it is the same path he expects to take with his three children — two boys and a girl, all of whom are under the age of 10.  While the family farming business has passed from father to son to son to son, J.P. will be very happy to break that pattern if his daughter shows an interest in agriculture.  At 9, she is the oldest and J.P. says “very intelligent and very capable.  She could be a farmer.”

THE WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION:  Soon after launching the family company into the vegetable end of the business, Matt LaBrucherie joined Western Growers and the firm has been a member ever since.  They use Western Growers for their insurance plans and J.P. said the association “does a great job on advocacy, especially the efforts toward passing immigration reform.  We also like all the work that has been done in the area of food safety.”

Matt LaBrucherie was a member of the Western Growers Board of Directors for three different terms in the 1960s and ’70s.  J.P. has not been active yet in that way but he recently completed his term as president of Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association.

 

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