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More than half of planting days cancelled; recent warmer weather catchup

California lettuce had a rainy start this year

The growing season for lettuce has been less than stellar, but many growers have still been able to meet supply now that weather conditions have turned around and winter is long gone. January and February’s major rain events caused short planting windows for grower-shippers in the Salinas Valley. “It’s been an interesting year, especially with romaine,” said Ashley Pipkin of Tanimura & Antle. 

Rained out
“We were rained out for the majority of our planting days this year.” Out of 59 potential planting days, 34 were cancelled. Even though overall yields were initially affected, quality remained fairly consistent and Pipkin said they made a big effort to cover their customers. Some warmer weather allowed production to pull ahead, but an unseasonable cold stretch could impact supplies. Production is in Salinas, California from April to November, and then moves to Yuma and cycles back again. 

Pipkin was at the CPMA trade show in Toronto recently, where T&A had many of their lines of lettuces on display, including their Artisan line of more boutique style greens. “The Artisan line is something we’re very proud of,” she said. Artisan Romaine has seen an increase in the category over the last couple of months. The small, dense Artisan Romaine heads yield more usable product than hearts twice their size because of their tight nature. Pipkin says the ribs are smaller and the leaves are tender and sweet. 

Housing for employees
With labor being a growing issue, Tanimura & Antle built an agricultural employee housing complex — Spreckels Crossing — at their main office in Spreckels, CA. “As labor becomes more and more of an issue, retaining and recruiting employees is a huge focus for us," Pipkin said. "By providing low-cost housing for our agricultural workers, we’re not only improving the living conditions for many of our employees, but we’re also able to ensure that we’ll have the capability to harvest our product. Without employees to harvest our product, we wouldn’t have a business, because we’ve built our harvest operations around employees rather than contract labor. Employees are treated as an extension of the Tanimura and Antle families. Over 14 percent of T&A's staff has been with the company for 20+ years "which is a true testament to what a great company we are a part of.” 

Another recent movement to help put employees in the driver’s seat was becoming a partially employee owned company in February. The Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is essentially a retirement plan that allows qualified employees to receive a percentage of ownership of the company through years of service. 

For more information:
Ashley Pipkin 
Tanimura & Antle 
Tel: 831 455-3654 

Publication date: 5/17/2017
Author: Rebecca D Dumais
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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