(June 28) The 30,000-square-foot expansion recently completed at Carzalia Valley Produce accomplished more than giving the Columbus, N.M., grower-shipper more storage space.

Vice president James Johnson said the project is expected to reduce labor costs and decrease shrink in the company’s sweet onion business by 5% — or about 50,000 50-pound bags per season.

Carzalia’s project started in 2004 with the installation of a Compac InVision 5000 six-lane sorter, which reduced overtime labor costs and increased weighing accuracy.

Construction that was completed in June expanded the facility to 90,000 square feet, increased storage capacity to more than 2 million pounds and added two truck docks, for a total of six.

The addition also allowed the company to change the way it harvests and stores its crop.

“We had been drying everything in the field in burlap,” Johnson said. “If it rained, we weren’t able to harvest.”

Sacks were put on a field loader, and a conveyor belt would drop the onions into a truck.

“There was a lot of potential for bruising,” Johnson said. “We were getting too much bruising and mechanical damage, and we were throwing too much product away.”

Johnson said shrink ranged from 10% to 20% in the old system. Now Carzalia puts onions into Macro Plastics bins in the fields. Bins are loaded onto trucks, and the onions are later placed under dryers in the warehouse.

Johnson, who expected his company would ship 1 million 50-pound bags this season, declined to reveal the cost of the upgrades but said that with increased efficiencies the project should pay for itself in four years.