(Aug. 26) ORANGE COVE, Calif. — Booth Ranches has made another bold move to strengthen its citrus operation by adding the expertise of Franco Bernardi as the general manager overseeing the company’s nearly 5,000 acres, said Loren Booth, partner in Booth Ranches.

Bernardi most recently worked at Sun World International Inc., Bakersfield, as manager of northern citrus operations for seven years.

Bernardi comes aboard at Booth to tie together the pieces of a surging operation. In the last five years, Booth Ranches has doubled its acreage, doubled the size of the packing facility it acquired in 2002 and amplified its growing operations.

Bernardi started Aug. 1 and succeeds Al Bates. Booth Ranches hired Bates in October 2002. Bates, who spent 14 years with Dole Food Co. Inc., was most recently in charge of operations in the flower and North American fruit division. Bates left Booth Ranches Aug. 1 to join a California nursery company, Booth said.

EXPERIENCE

Bernardi has experience in the citrus arena, having been vice president and general manager of the farming division of Paramount Citrus, Delano. Before that Bernardi worked with Superior Farming Co. as the special operations manager in Bakersfield.

He serves as the vice president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter.

Bernardi said joining Booth Ranches will present a new challenge.

“Booth has unique acreage,” Bernardi said. “They have prime citrus acreage (that yields) good quality, the type that will be profitable.”

High quality is what is necessary to keep that amount of export navels in the marketplace, Bernardi said.

Booth exports more than 40% of its citrus.

All efforts under the Booth banner are in-house with the exception of marketing, Booth said.

DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, Fla., has handled the marketing efforts of Booth Ranches for two years. DNE markets fruit for two other California citrus operations — Tri Citrus Co., Porterville, and San Antonio Orchard Co., Riverside.

LEAP EXPECTED

The citrus operation is expected to take a leap in production as newly planted orchards mature, Booth said. “We’ve got an awful lot of young groves,” he said.

Navel varieties are the company’s major item. Valencia is also a large program, and murcot honey tangerines were planted on land purchased this year.

Bernardi also said he expects a hike in supplies.

“The volume is going to increase very quickly,” he said.