Last week’s Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, CA, presented by Western Growers, featured a sold-out trade show of supply chain and service provider partners connecting with organic growers and educational sessions. Additionally, Vic Smith, CEO of JV Smith Companies, was recognized for his leadership and commitment to organic growing, as the recipient of the fourth annual Grower of the Year award, presented by Greg Milstead, senior vice-president of AGCO.
Vic Smith and Greg Milstead.
Eight different sessions featured topics for organic growers. In the Smart Farm: Ag Tech in the Field session, a pair of companies touted their use of robotics to help automate labor-intensive farming practices. Sebastien Boyer, CEO of FarmWise, said the company has 12 autonomous weeders that were in use all summer in the Salinas Valley and are now in the Yuma area providing weeding services at a cost cheaper than hard-to-get hand labor. During that same tech session, Gabe Sibley of Verdant Robotics reported how his firm’s “ground-based robotics” have been able to digitize the complete growth cycle of a crop and then utilize the data to perform cultural tasks precisely and automatically.
Another session focused on growing and selling organics in the Mexican market. The takeaway from this session was that it is not easier—in fact, it is harder with more regulations—to grow an organic crop in Mexico and put a consumer label on it. Representatives of Taylor Farms, JV Smith Companies, and Divine Flavor relayed the challenges they face in growing and/or marketing organic produce on both sides of the border.
Attendees at this year's Organic Grower Summit.
In Organic Grower Perspectives on the Challenges of Scaling, leaders from Lakeside Organic Gardens, Homegrown Organic Farms, Del Rey Avocados and Braga Fresh discussed the challenges and opportunities involved with building a large-scale organic operation. Scott Mabs, CEO of Homegrown, noted that increasing organic production and becoming a significant player involved “a lot of trial and error. There are no short cuts.”
Jessica Hunter, vice-president of operations for Del Rey Avocado, said her company sells about 30 percent of California’s entire organic avocado production. She expects organic avocados to continue to take a large slice of all avocado production as yields are remarkably similar to conventionally grown avocados, with the grower getting a premium for the fruit.
Left to right: Dave Puglia, Keith Barnard, Bianca Kaprielian, Michael Valpredo.
The educational part of the program concluded with a keynote presentation featuring younger growers sharing their thoughts on what the future of the industry may look like. Moderated by Dave Puglia, CEO of Western Growers, the panelists included Keith Barnard, senior vice-president of sales and sourcing of Mission Produce; Bianca Kaprielian, CEO and co-owner of Fruit World; and Michael Valpredo, president and co-founder of Country Sweet Produce.