The sustainability movement has been garnering lots of press — both consumer and trade — recently, but California strawberry grower-shippers don’t know what all the commotion is about.
Sustainable agriculture is something they’ve been practicing all along.
“We’ve been sustainable since our company’s inception because sustainability and profitability go hand in hand,” said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, San Diego.
Part of sustainability is lowering inputs and trying to minimize one’s carbon footprint, he said.
“No company is willingly using more materials in packaging or more fertilizer or running their tractors more than have to,” Munger said.
Perhaps the produce industry just hasn’t done a good enough job of “getting the word out about how efficient we are at farm level,” he said.
“Our industry has to constantly be cognizant that (sustainability) is a real … issue with consumers who are concerned about where their food is coming from and how much did it cost the environment to produce it.”
Having control over your fields and practicing sustainable agriculture is a good reason to grow your own product, said Jose Corona, president of Corona Marketing Co., Santa Maria, Calif.
The company grows 60% of the strawberries it markets, Corona said, and several years ago hired a University of California, Davis, graduate to serve as pest control adviser.
I call him “the plant doctor,” Corona said.
He conducts tissue and soil analyses weekly and helps balance the nutrients the plants receive without overfeeding them.
The company started out just trying to save fertilizer costs, Corona said, but now he is aware of the negative impact of overfertilizing the land.
“Little by little, we’re still learning,” he said.
Sustainability also is top of mind at Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, Calif., said Dan Crowley, sales manager.
“We’ve always been about sustainable farming,” he said. “You have to be stewards of the land, otherwise, you don’t have a farm to go to.”
Growers don’t need a customer or the government to tell them how to sustain their land, he said, “because it’s your own livelihood.”
Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC supports smart farming practices that lead to sustainable agriculture in all of the company’s farming efforts, whether conventional or organic, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner.
“You try to work with growers that are rotating ground and have good food safety practices constantly going on in their farming as well as their planting and harvesting,” he added.
The “locally grown” concept typically is linked to sustainability, but some grower-shippers don’t believe the two must be intertwined.
The growing areas along the Pacific Coast produce some of the best strawberries in the world, Munger said.
Even though many consumers clamor for local produce, he thinks there’s a “certain amount of forgiveness” when it comes to strawberries.
“Consumers realize that strawberries grow in specific geographical regions, and it’s acceptable to buy a strawberry from California,” he said, “because it’s very difficult to buy a local strawberry when you live in Minnesota or Wisconsin.”
Some major retailers strive to offer products from local farmers, but that’s not necessarily a good thing, Crowley added.
In many cases, “That local farmer has no infrastructure, and he’s probably making a bigger carbon footprint than a bulk shipment from (California) to a central distribution center, if you think of the economics of it,” he said.