Recipe for the Future: Tradition and Innovation in Equal Parts

Opinion

On the surface‭, ‬tradition and innovation might seem to be at odds with each other‭, ‬but to me they are‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬and must be‭ ‬‮—‬inextricably‭ ‬linked‭. ‬The words of Grimmway Farms’‭ ‬founders continue to remind us that we must always meet our commitment to provide customers with‭ ‬“consistent quality‭, ‬service and competitive pricing‭,‬”‭ ‬while looking for new ways to fulfill that promise‭. ‬We never forget that our early growth and success was predicated on exploring‭ ‬“new technology”‭ ‬to engineer a machine that would perfect the‭ ‬“baby carrot”‭ ‬into a mainstay of school lunches and healthy snacks‭.‬

The time-honored quote‭, ‬“Innovation is anything but business as usual‭,‬”‭ ‬reflects how we think about innovation‭. ‬While it extends to all aspects of operations‭, ‬there are several key areas the industry‭ ‬can concentrate on as we look to the future‭.‬

Technology

Calling your dedicated employees your most important asset shouldn’t be a company slogan‭; ‬it’s an authentic description of how we should value our workforce‭. ‬Yet‭, ‬as a people-based enterprise‭, ‬the industry‬ must embrace technologies that provide tools and resources to operate with greater efficiency and manageably scale our business‭. ‬Utilizing the‭ ‬latest technologies enables us to effectively manage costs‭, ‬whether by employing GPS guidance-equipped tractors‭, ‬saving both time and fuel‭, ‬or harnessing the power of‭ ‬software modeling programs and drones to more accurately predict crop yields‭.‬

As we look ahead‭, ‬we expect technology to play an even more significant role in how we approach our operations‭, ‬including soil and crop sensors to assess soil health and irrigation needs‭. ‬At Grimmway we will continue to be early adopters to ensure our workforce has the latest tools to enhance efficiency‭, ‬safety and yields‭.‬

Production Diversity

With the vagaries of climate change‭, ‬droughts and water shortages‭, ‬good business practices require us to diversify our footprint‭. ‬Innovative approaches must be taken to how we manage and organize farming and production‭. ‬While the majority‭ ‬of Grimmway’s operations are in Kern County‭, ‬for example‭, ‬we also recognize the imperative to yield more crops‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬and more frequently‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬by diversifying our farming sites and geographic footprint‭.‬

While we foresee our local Kern County operations as always being central to our business‭, ‬we’ve expanded our farming throughout California and nationwide‭, ‬including Washington‭, ‬Oregon‭, ‬Colorado‭, ‬Florida and Georgia‭, ‬and continue to look at more areas of opportunity‭. ‬A regional production model enables us to increase yield and produce crops on a year-round basis‭, ‬be more responsive to customers’‭ ‬particular needs and lessens travel times from‭ ‬“farm to table‭.‬”


Our industry certainly doesn’t look like it did 20 years ago, and will change even more over the next two decades. However, if past is prologue, I am extremely optimistic about its future.


Product Mix‭‬

There hasn’t been any single advancement in memory with greater importance to our industry than the shift to organics‭. ‬Grimmway’s organic division started more than 20‭ ‬years ago but advanced to a new level with the acquisition of Cal-Organic Farms‭, ‬and I spent my early years with the company helping grow that division‭. ‬The challenge now is keeping pace with demand‭, ‬while managing the higher‭ ‬farming costs with consumer preferences and expectations‭.

What products are integral to the organic line‭, ‬and which are just too difficult or time-consuming to grow and harvest‭? ‬How do we balance the need for harvesting certain organics by hand‭, ‬versus the customer’s willingness to pay for that cost‭? ‬We’re working on solutions‭, ‬including new harvesting equipment and zero-waste strategies that involve preventing‭, ‬reducing and recycling 80‭ ‬percent of our landfill waste to more productive streams‭.

We’re also innovating our farming ratios‭, ‬with a move away from bulk commodities toward more ready-to-eat and pre-packaged goods‭.‬

Energy‭‬

‬Innovation also means caring for the planet‭. ‬It’s not only the right thing to do‭; ‬it’s just good for our business‭. ‬Our operations depend upon a reliable and affordable supply of energy‭, ‬with an eye toward environmental responsibility‭.

We’ve implemented new technologies to minimize our use of fossil fuels and reduce our carbon footprint‭. ‬We’ve converted to energy-saving LED lighting throughout our facilities‭, ‬expanded our solar farm to a 4.2-megawatt system‭, ‬and replaced all of our metal halide lamps with lead-free fluorescent tubes‭.

Our industry certainly doesn’t look like it did 20‭ ‬years ago‭, ‬and will change even more over the next two decades‭. ‬However‭, ‬if past is prologue‭, ‬I am extremely optimistic about its future‭. ‬The ability to innovate‭, ‬use technology for good‭, ‬increase yields to bring more healthy products‭ ‬to more people‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬while never losing sight of our responsibility to customers and the planet‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬is not only a force for success‭, ‬but a force for good‭.‬


Jeff Huckaby is the president of Grimmway Farms. Headquartered in Bakersfield, CA, Grimmway is a global produce leader that supplies more than 135 products — grown entirely within the United States.

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