Managing DiMare Fresh Tomatoes

Season Starting for DiMare Fresh Tomatoes

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

DiMare Fresh is a fresh market tomato company with operations throughout California. California Ag Today spoke recently to Brian Souza, who is the in-house pest control advisor, among other things, for the company.

Souza explained how he manages the work throughout the state: “We start down south and work our way north as the season progresses. Other than being a PCA, I start in the greenhouses and manage our transplants, and just work from there.”

“We also schedule all the plantings, and manage the crops, and myself and another PCA walk the fields two times to four times a week. We always have someone in the fields every day looking, because … fresh market is sensitive, and they definitely need a lot of attention,” he said.

“We have great team members, and communicate constantly. We’re always in different areas at different times, so if there’s something I’m missing the other guys hopefully catch it, and that’s usually the case. It’s a lot of good communication and team work,” he said.

DiMare Fresh does not grow any tomatoes, but they manage a lot of growers who grow for the company.

“DiMare doesn’t own any of the property, but we do have growers that grow for us. And they are very loyal growers that we’ve had for 20, 30, 35 years.

All the rain this winter certainly can be a game changer for companies like DiMare. “We are one of the first tomato companies to start planting,” Souza said. “We love these rains, but it does bring challenges getting in as early as we normally would like to do. Sometimes we’ll have to just chance it and get our stuff in if we can.

Rains also means a lot of weeds in those fields. “For sure, there’s a lot of weeds out there, and especially with the drought we’ve noticed some newer weeds that are taking over, that are a little more drought tolerant. Horseweed and hairy fleabane are the most prominent,” Souza said.

 

 

Grafting Rootstocks on Tomatoes, A Growing Trend

Grafting Can Yield Bigger, Better Tomatoes

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Brenna Aegerter is a San Joaquin County Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor. She specializes in vegetable crops, and she’s working on tomato plant grafting for market tomatoes. “Right, they would be doing it at the greenhouse. They’d start off the plants like normal, except they’re planting both the rootstock and the regular fruiting variety, so you’re planting two seeds. Then, these little seedlings are cut in half and put back together with the root stock on the bottom” Aegerter said.

The tomatoes are then placed in a dark, humid chamber, which allows them to heal for about one week. Following this step, the plants are then moved back into the greenhouse. This process speeds up the growth cycle on these plants by about two weeks. When the tomatoes are ready to ship, they look the same as any tomato plant except; these have a plastic clip that helps support the graft union. “It’s really soft, like a biodegradable silicon,” Aegerter said.

There are a few reasons why this process is necessary. “We want to increase the vigor of the plants, and we want more fruit, more vine, and bigger fruit. This is for fresh market tomatoes,” Aegerter explained.

It is not necessary on processing tomatoes, as the grower wants total tonnage. “We’re looking for some resistance to some of these diseases that we have. The idea being that maybe we can reduce,” Adgerter said.

One way to avoid the soil borne diseases is to plant tomatoes with the grafting union above the soil. These tomatoes however, have a tall transplant and most of the stem is buried. There’s no way in current production practices to plant with the union above ground. “But even with the deep roots, the rootstock is vigorous,” Aegerter said.

This rootstock must be bred. Sometimes they are a wild species, but for the most part, they are hybrids of wild and cultivated tomatoes. They contain some characteristics of a wild tomato but have a tomato rootstock breeder. The breeder, Monsanto/Seminis, is working worldwide for different markets. “[Their] job is breeding rootstocks,” Aegerter said.

This practice is an emerging standard that is becoming more common in other parts of the country. This takes place in the Southeast such as North Carolina. They are growing stake tomatoes, which is a very different production system. They pick multiple times while growers in California pick once.

The greenhouses aren’t set up with automated grafting. All of the grafting is done by hand. “To bring that cost down to a price that we’d like to see, they’re going to have to be more automated. But how can they justify the decision to invest in very expensive automated grafting equipment, if they don’t know if the market is there?” she said.

California’s ‘Exceptional Drought’

Long Term Solutions, Desperately Needed For California Drought

 

By John Vikupitz, president and CEO of Netafim USA in Fresno, California

 

Aaron Barcellos, a partner with A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Los Banos, is a fourth-generation farmer. His 7,000-acre operation produces crops, including pistachios, pomegranates, asparagus, and tomatoes.

The farm creates jobs for up to 40 people full-time and over 100 at peak season. This year, the operation took an unprecedented move in letting 30 percent of its productive acreage go fallow for lack of water, redirecting available water to permanent crops and to honor tomato contracts.  This fallowing of acreage has resulted in a loss of work for over 30 part-time employees and an estimated loss of $10 million to the local business economy from his operation, alone.

“It’s a ‘batten down the hatches’ year,” notes Mr. Barcellos. “We are trying to survive this year while hoping the severity of this drought will provide momentum for more long term solutions to our water crisis.”

California’s ‘exceptional drought’ – said by University of California (UC) Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn to perhaps be the worst in 500 years – places the state at a critical juncture.

California’s historic low precipitation of 2013 and the below normal 2012 precipitation left most state reservoirs at  between six percent storage in the Southern Sierra to 36 percent in Shasta – levels not been seen since the 1977 severe drought. Snowpack is nearly non-existent.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports nearly half of the U.S. is in some form of drought.

Water is one of life’s greatest conveniences. Turn on the tap and water appears, often at less cost than other household bills, providing the lifeblood for food production, human health, climate, energy and the ecosystem.

We may take water for granted until we’re in danger of losing it as sources dry up. We may not contemplate the support system and cost that brings water to the tap: the extensive pipe conveyance system, treatment plant, chemicals needed for purification, labor and energy costs.

Consequently, every drop saved by one water user benefits all users.

Homeowners may do their part in water conservation by installing low-flow fixtures – often incentivized through government rebate programs – by washing vehicles less or taking shorter showers. The payoff: lower water bills.

The agricultural sector is doing its part, too, using water-saving technology investments that reap returns for Californians, as well as those elsewhere benefitting from its exports. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts and leads the world in almond and pistachio production. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion for their 2012 output.  Exports totaled more than $18 billion.

Tens of thousands of productive acres are being fallowed. The number of jobs, specifically those of farmworkers, will subside as food prices increase. California, the nation’s top dairy producer, is shipping cows out of state due to water uncertainties with no guarantee that alfalfa and other crops cows consume will continue to be available.

It’s critical that people appreciate their food source. California’s regulations ensure safe and reliable food, while California’s highly progressive and efficient farmers enable that food source to be the cheapest in the world Mr. Barcellos points out.

Food safety and quality drive those innovations, as well as economics. Regulations mean the cost to produce food and get it to the store requires farmers to be highly efficient to remain competitive.

Mr. Barcellos farms in five different irrigation districts with various water rights and water supplies. A-Bar Ag Enterprises has converted 5,500 acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation creating a combined water savings and production efficiency of over twenty percent.

“What we do in California with the different irrigation technologies creates significant efficiencies in water application without waste, enabling farmers to increase yields with fewer inputs. With that said, it doesn’t matter what the crop – it still takes water to grow it,” Mr. Barcellos points out.

According to The Center for Irrigation Technology at California State University, Fresno, Agriculture uses 40 percent of all dedicated water, including environmental, municipal and industrial uses in order to meet the needs of the eight million irrigated agricultural acres in California.

When farmers were short on water, they used to purchase it on the open market or pump more ground water. This year, there is no water to buy and wells are starting to run dry, says Mr. Barcellos.

While the federal government has offered temporary food money for farmworkers, “the people in our communities want to work, not receive handouts from a food bank,” Mr. Barcellos says, adding that it’s time to work on long-term solutions to water problems.

California’s water system was developed for 20 million people, with residents and farmers sharing the water supply, with those same resources later shared to meet environmental concerns. That – and the nearly doubled population – has taxed the water system, Mr. Barcellos says.

“We haven’t spent any serious funds to improve California’s infrastructure since the early 1970s to keep pace with population growth and environmental demands,” Mr. Barcellos says. “If the environment needs more water, let’s use sound science and invest in more storage and better conveyance systems for long-term solutions.”

Following Governor Edmund Brown Jr.’s January declaration of a drought emergency, the State Water Project cut water deliveries to all 29 public water agencies to zero for 2014.

Even if there is some short-term relief, mitigation is needed to protect against long-term unpredictable weather patterns.

UC Berkeley’s David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains:  the drought notwithstanding, California’s aged infrastructure calls for increased investments in water recycling, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination with a focus on local water supply development.

The United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), California indicates three priorities: protecting soils made vulnerable by water cutbacks, protecting drought-impacted rangeland, and stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to develop a water conservation plan and seek funding opportunities such as the $30 million available through USDA NRCS California to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers with conservation practices and the $25 million to help pay for conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Irrigation is the final stop on the train that begins with water supply and continues with delivery methods. Water conservation technology – much of which has been proven overseas for decades on arid farmlands – offers a solution right now to apply water more precisely and even improve crop yields and quality.

Our world’s growing population calls for large-scale farming to provide food. For decades, California farmers with reasonable and secure access to water have used water conservation technologies to continue farming and create more water for other purposes, such as the needs of growing urban areas and for environmental remediation, which uses half of California’s water supply.

Farmers like Mr. Barcellos are great stewards of the environment. Many California farmers have successfully adopted this technology to a large degree, using water more efficiently and leaving more in the system for other uses. We need to expand that effort more.