(Jan. 28) PLACENTIA, Calif. — A long-term lease on a 500-acre ranch in San Clemente could bring three quarters of a million more boxes of vegetables and strawberries into the sales capabilities of Sunrise Growers this year.

The strawberry grower, which in recent years has launched a focus on vegetable production as well, signed the 5-year lease on part of Camp Pendleton late in 2003, said Carl Lindgren, vice president and general manager.

“It’s a great place for strawberries and vegetables,” Lindgren said. “It’s a beautiful ranch.”

In addition to locking in the lease on land that had been farmed by Oxnard-based Deardorff-Jackson Co., Sunrise bought a cooling facility on the site as well as irrigation systems on the land from Deardorff-Jackson.

Lindgren wasn’t sure of the exact square footage of the facility, but he said Sunrise was renovating it and doubling the cooling capacity. The construction should be complete by March, giving the cooler capacity to handle 25,000 to 30,000 cartons of strawberries at a time.

The addition and subsequent expansion of the cooler is important because the Irvine Co. last summer closed a cooler that many Orange County strawberry grower-shippers had shared. In its place went private housing.

“Besides cooling our San Clemente product, we’ll probably take our Baja vegetables and maybe our El Toro strawberries to the new cooler,” Lindgren said.

Sunrise had grown product on the ranch in conjunction with Deardorff-Jackson for the past couple of seasons.

“When Deardorff indicated they wanted to take their tomato operations further north, we jumped on the chance to lease the land,” Lindgren said. “It’s all in shape and ready to go. We already have strawberries on it, and we’ll plant beans and peppers there soon. We had a successful cauliflower deal there this winter.”

Sunrise has expanded its strawberry capabilities in all California growing districts, and this year will be the Southern California company’s third year in the Salinas/Watsonville region, which is the northernmost strawberry district.

Sunrise expects to ship 10 million trays of California strawberries this year.