November 11, 2021

WGCIT SPONSOR: Prime Time Interested in Varietal Research

By Tim Linden

Mike Way, managing partner of Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International Inc., is very appreciative of the interactions he has had with the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology.

“This is our fifth year as a sponsor,” he said. “First of all, we got involved because we see the need for innovation to solve some of agriculture’s critical issues. And on the top of that list is we have less people doing the work. We have to figure out how to do more with less.”

Way said that means some type of mechanical harvesting in the field and the use of more automation in packing sheds. Looking at the entire industry and not focusing on a specific crop, the Prime Time executive said lack of labor is an ongoing problem and he sees no quick fix. There just aren’t enough workers.

The problem is even more acute when Way concentrates on Prime Time’s signature item—colored peppers. Pepper fields need to be picked five to six times during the season, which makes them a particularly vexing problem for any type of machine harvesting. “To work with peppers, we have to start with the genetics,” he said. “Pepper plants have to be developed that can be harvested only once or twice during the season.”

Way said the folks at WGCIT have not just taken Prime Time’s money and walked away but rather they have engaged with the company to try to help them find solutions to their own problems. “Walt (Duflock) and his team have set us up with a company (seed breeder) that is going to do a one-acre trial on some new pepper varieties. I really appreciate that.”

He added that currently there is no mechanical harvester that would work on even a totally uniform pepper field, but that’s got to be the long-range goal. More than any other issue, including water, Way said lack of labor can devastate California production agriculture.

But that doesn’t mean Prime Time is ignoring other tech issues. “We have upgraded our facilities so we can run faster and more efficiently. We have mechanized where we can and we think there are some more opportunities there.”

He did remind that while utilizing new innovations with high-tech solutions, profitability is still determined by a time-honored metric. “It’s always all about yield. That has to be our main focus.”

Way remains optimistic that solutions can be found for the labor issue and that California can continue to be competitive in the fresh produce business. “We have adapted pretty well over the years,” he said. “We are in Mexico (with production) and we have also added other crops, including asparagus programs in Mexico and Peru. But everything is on the table for Prime Time. It has to be!”


(Editor’s Note: Mike Way, who was interviewed for this story, and Mark Nickerson, who is on the cover of this issue, are two of the four owners of Prime Time International. Jeff Taylor and Carl Sam Maggio are the other two members of the owner group.)