Though Craig Reade’s dad was in the oil industry, he grew up around agriculture in the Central Coast and always knew he was destined to be in the farming business.
“From the time I was 10 years old, I was driving a tractor on a neighbor’s farm and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he said.
Reade worked on farms in high school and college, majored in Ag Business Management at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and helped start a soil laboratory at nearby Betteravia Farms while still in college. Now, more than 35 years later, he is still at Betteravia Farms.
Today, he is a managing partner along with the other third generation partners: Mitch Ardantz, Rob Ferini, Alain Pincot and Tommy Minetti. “We run operations while senior partners Henry Ardantz, Milo Ferini and Patrick Ferini bring the institutional experience and knowledge to the business while staying involved on a daily basis.”
Reade’s entry into the farming business wasn’t totally by happenchance. His father’s family grows grapes in the southern San Joaquin Valley. When the elder Reade moved to San Luis Obispo to attend Cal Poly, he “met my mom who was a San Luis Obispo-born-and-raised gal and never returned to the family ranch.”
But his dad was still passionate about farming and instilled that trait into a young Craig. “As I look back at my career, I owe special thanks to a handful of people in the ag industry that took an interest in me, supported me, which afforded me an opportunity to follow a passion and become further involved with production agriculture. Families such as the Acquistapaces, Nishinos, Taniguchis, Ferinis and Ardantzes played keys roles in my success over the past 40 years and deserve a very special thanks.”
When Craig looks at the company’s current soil lab and protocol and its handful of technicians and myriad of tests, he chuckles a bit at the early effort he was involved in starting in the 1980s. “We were doing very basic stuff—soil salinity, nitrate levels and pH levels. Much different than what we are doing today. We have a full lab complete with four full-time employees.”
After several years of running that lab, Craig began to work side by side with the farm’s general manager. He learned about ground preparation, planting and scheduling, and completely loves that part of the work. In those early years, he thought he would take the knowledge he was learning and eventually strike out on his own, but “I was treated so well here, I never left.”
While his involvement in management has brought him indoors for a significant portion of his work day, what he enjoys best is checking the progress of the many crops that the firm has been producing since the 1930s.
Today, the organization is a year-round producer of an array of crops with cauliflower, broccoli, head lettuce, celery and romaine serving as the core items. Those mainstays have been at the center of the company’s product list since that first crop was planted in the Santa Maria Valley 85 years ago. Today, with Betteravia Farms serving as the production entity and Bonipak Produce handling sales, cooling and shipping, the firm’s farming operations have expanded beyond Santa Maria to include a winter operation in Yuma, AZ.
And Reade said the list of crops seemingly grows every year. The newest additions have been Brussel sprouts and artichokes along with a return to strawberry production. Cilantro, cabbage and leaf items are on the list and Betteravia Farms has also established an organic program over the last decade with the firm’s core crops being the foundation of that effort.
Reade is well versed on the facts and figures of the firm he helps manage, but he is more interested in talking about the next generation in the family-owned business and how the technology of the future will solve today’s problems. “I really feel the next generation will play key roles in the way of advanced technologies that will get the right fix in place. Just in the past few years, I have personally witnessed great strides made in the way of automation. When looking for ways to improve through new technologies, it becomes very apparent that this new generation is the perfect fit. They get it and can take it even further with their innate understanding of hardware and software applications and the competitive challenge of advancement.”
Reade said when he started a spiral notebook was used to keep track of what was going on in the field. Now smart phones and iPads have not only replaced the notebooks, but they are used to run the ranches and do analyses.
He mentions that labor and water are major problems today but technology is being used to mitigate those issues. More efficient ways to irrigate, as well to plant and harvest the crops, are being developed at breakneck speed. For example, he mentioned an automatic lettuce thinner that Betteravia is now using. Four people can now do the work that previously needed a crew of 36. Reade is quick to point out that the company has a labor shortage so this new technology is not displacing workers. The workers doing this work can now move into more skilled positions and receive higher wages. “That’s a winner all the way around,” he says.
The Betteravia executive is also quick to point out that he is not minimizing the efforts of generations of leaders and employees that have made the firm what it is today. “When I mention the next generation, I am in no way discounting or ignoring the contributions previous generations have made to our company’s ongoing success. Since the early ‘30s, we have prided ourselves with the culture we have created which is all about and around our people. We fully understand that hiring the right person for the right job and then getting behind them with company resources and moral support is most important.”
Reade is equally excited about his year at the helm of Western Growers. He believes the next generation is not only the key for success at Betteravia and Bonipak but also at Western Growers and throughout the industry. He points to WG’s Future Volunteer Leaders effort and the Center for Innovation and Technology as programs that will propel the industry into a better future. He believes more work needs to be done to attract young people to the industry. He said advanced technology will play a big role, but there will still need to be people to walk the fields and tend the crop and make decisions about which crop should be harvested when. Reade noted that many companies, including Betteravia, do have a potential gold mine in their fields. He said many laborers have the ambition, the knowledge and the work ethic to be long-term key employees. “Don’t forget your pool of existing employees. You have a lot of real talent from within that you can develop.”
On a personal front, Reade is doing what he can to add to the agricultural labor force. He and his wife, Christine, have four young adults in the fold, each of whom appears to be headed for a career in agriculture or a related field. “Anthony is the oldest and the first to graduate from Cal Poly and is now working indirectly for the family business through a collaborative strawberry growing project. My second child, Lindsay, is nearing completion of her master’s program at Boise State University in Health Sciences. Andrew will be graduating this spring from Cal Poly in crop science, while my youngest, Lauren, will be a junior at Cal Poly continuing her study’s in ag communications.”
As they move toward empty nesting, Craig and Christine Reade have kept up an active life style. He credits WG Past Chairman Larry Cox and his wife, Tina, with introducing the pair to fly fishing. Craig also enjoys mountain biking.
And he is very much looking forward to his year as Western Growers Chairman of the Board. “I feel honored and privileged to have been involved with the Western Growers Association for the past 15 years and to now serve as its chairman. It’s a big responsibility that I take very serious and look forward to working very closely with WG’s leadership, board of directors and its wonderful staff.”