Harris Farms Prepares For the Future

A Conversation with Steve Hamm, Controller of Harris Farms, Coalinga

CaliforniaAgToday: How long have you been working with Harris Farms?

Steve Hamm: I’ve been with Harris since December of 2013, so a year and a half. I have the freshest face on the farm!

CAT: That was the first year with zero water allocation; could that have been the worst time to start?

Hamm: I do not think it was a bad time to come in–even though 2013-2014 definitely was a hard hit, now look at 2015. I think it is an important time for me to be here. There are a lot of ways we used to do business that probably made sense under different scenarios. Now, whether we are looking at cost allocation or geographical diversification, we are thinking differently than before and challenging a lot of old assumptions, such as how much to plant, and how much water to carry over, and what are normal prices. A few years ago, people would laugh at $400-500/acre-foot of water; now you are paying triple that price.

CAT: Makes you think differently, doesn’t it?

Hamm: Everything is being challenged. I think when I started, it was a good time to ask questions–just within Harris Farms. Why do we do it this way, why do we do it that way? Have we considered this? And sometimes there is nothing you can really do to change, but other times, all it takes is really challenging old assumptions.

We are getting into some things we probably would not have considered a few years ago–just kind of the new reality. I really think about the future and making financial plans. Luckily, we are diversified, so if we don’t get Westside water, we’ll be OK. We’ve got the beef operation, plus hospitality with the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant in Coalinga, and other ranches for farming, so corporate will be OK. But looking at this farm here on the Westside, we’re all hoping next year the rains will come.

It reminds me of that old Jewish saying, “Next year…. in Jerusalem.” How many centuries did they say that before it happened? I wonder will the rains will come 2016? What if it is 2018? Are we preparing ourselves for that?