(UPDATED COVERAGE, 5:30 P.M., MAY 1)  Salyer American Fresh Foods, Monterey, Calif., instructed its growers this week to stop planting after harvesting on current crops is finished, said industry sources speaking on background.

 

Salyer executives Allan Sabatier, senior vice president of sales and marketing, and Eric Schwartz, president, did not return requests for comment. The company’s lawyer, Malcolm Segal, also was unavailable for comment May 1.

Glen Dupree, vice president and chief financial officer of Merrill Farms, Salinas, Calif., a grower for Salyer, said the company was told April 25 by phone from Salyer to stop planting because Salyer would only be harvesting the next crop and nothing else.

Salyer American halts plantings

Dupree said he’s “not real surprised” by what’s happened with Salyer and didn’t know if it means Salyer will stop operating.

“We have been wondering, as has the whole industry for some time, what’ really going to happen with them,” Dupree said.

Salyer represents about 20% of Merrill’s growing business, Dupree said. Merrill has been growing broccoli, iceberg and leaf lettuces, cauliflower and celery for Salyer for about six years, he said.

Dupree said Salyer has paid Merrill “so far” but that future payments seem “tenuous” though he expects Merrill to be able to find other buyers for the additional acres left available. Dupree said the last of Salyer’s crops will be ready by July.

Salyer American is one of the largest grower-shippers in the Salinas Valley, specializing in leafy greens and colored cauliflower, and is owned by tomato processor SK Foods, Lemoore, Calif.

New Jersey food broker Randall Lee Rahal pleaded guilty in December to racketeering, money laundering and antitrust charges, while working as a broker for SK Foods in Lemoore.

Prosecutors said Rahal routinely bribed purchasing agents and buyers when negotiating contracts between SK Foods and distributors and retail stores throughout the U.S.

SK Foods — which merged with Salyer American in April 2007 — is not charged in the criminal complaint, nor are any of its officials.



In February, SK Foods fired employee Jennifer Dahlman, who worked for the tomato processor in Lemoore, after she pleaded guilty to mislabeling and changing test results.