Bakersfield-based Grimmway Farms is the classic story of “How it Started…How it’s Going.” Grimmway originally launched in the 1960s as a small produce stand opened by the Grimm brothers, selling corn to the local community. Today, it produces more than 65 seasonal and year-round products distributed globally and ranks as the world’s largest producer of carrots. Much of Grimmway’s success is attributed to business-savvy decisions and its commitment to caring for customers and employees. However, the farm’s decision to put innovation at the forefront has propelled Grimmway to even more success.
“The most interesting thing about Grimmway is that the company’s growth was launched by innovation,” said Jeff Morrison, director of innovation and new technology at Grimmway Farms. “If you look at the trajectory of the company, innovation took place early on in the formation of the baby carrot, so that is a textbook example of food product innovation where the consumer needs are being met and it changes the texture of the marketplace.”
To further grow the business and capture market opportunity, the carrot giant formed a group in 2009 solely dedicated to drive innovative processes for farming. The newly formed Ag R&D Department, led by Morrison, formally pursued innovation initiatives as well as developed and deployed technology and mechanical process improvements across the farm.
Through the years, Grimmway has built a robust innovation culture throughout the organization, ultimately strengthening its position in an increasingly competitive marketplace characterized by multiple regulatory headwinds. Learn how Grimmway Farms is successfully expanding the role of technology in food production through the 5 fascinating innovation facts below.
#1 Seed Variety Drives Changes in Planting Practices
You may know that consumer preference transformed the baby carrot – from a fatter, larger diameter carrot 15 to 30 years ago to today being a thin, pencil-sized baby carrot. But what you may not know is that the drastic changes in seed varieties have driven field productivity and the efficiency of carrot production, ultimately shaping planting practices throughout the entire Grimmway Farms operation. This includes implementing new planting systems that enable better control over the seed distribution and using better equipment to allow for more precise planting.
#2 Technology from Europe Plays Large Role in Field Productivity
Grimmway worked with European companies and producers to pair “al la cart” technology from Europe along with the farm’s own home-grown technology to bolster radish growing and harvest. The application of these blended mechanical systems encouraged Grimmway to adopt a holistic model of changing planting, growing and harvest practices to accommodate these new systems as opposed to the legacy manual process. The result? It flushed out a lot of the labor, increased productivity and quality in the field and improved the economics on radish.
#3 Grimmway Builds Tailor-Made Machines for Specific Micro-Climates
Grimmway has systems that it develops for the different regions that it grows in to ensure that their crop thrives in different weather, various soil types, etc. This includes building all its own planters and continually enhancing “off the shelf” metering units.
#4 COVID-19 Fast-Tracks Transition toward Packaged Vegetables
The pandemic catalyzed Grimmway’s transition toward packaged vegetables, including launching a new packaging system, developing new methods of cooling to ensure that quality is preserved, accelerating its push into the automating packaging and making package SKUs available to customers.
“We take our role in producing healthy fresh produce for the nation very seriously and want to make sure that we don’t have supply chain interruptions due to health issues. We want to manage that volatility, and we are doing everything we can to make the food supply as secure as possible. That requires us to approach things from a new perspective. That requires innovation,” said Morrison.
#5 Grimmway Accelerating Automation through Western Growers Partnership
Grimmway became a sponsor of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) in October 2019 and was the first sponsor to join the Global Harvest Automation Initiative, WG’s effort to solve the ag industry’s labor woes while simultaneously helping harvest automation start-up companies commercialize and scale at a more rapid pace.
“The next level of automation and innovation—even for a company like Grimmway—exceeds what we have the capacity to execute on individually. We need a team, and we need to pool capital and resources to make progress in that area. That’s why we are really focused on the WG effort,” said Morrison.
Additionally, Grimmway and the WGCIT are launching a test farm to accelerate innovation and fast-track the development cycle. Startups will have the opportunity to perform R&D year-round and growers will have the opportunity to evaluate the suitable technology. The test farm is slated to available for use in early 2022, adding yet another layer of groundbreaking innovation at Grimmway Farms.