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By Valley Ag Voice Staff

The agriculture industry in the Central Valley has seen tremendous movement in acquisitions and expansions of existing companies in recent years, impacting the region’s economy and agricultural future.

Amidst these changes, advancements in agricultural technology are also reshaping farming practices, with industry leaders leading the charge in addressing the pressing challenges of labor costs and efficiency.

FRESH PRODUCE

California’s Central Valley is the hub for fresh produce, attracting both local and international-based agricultural companies to begin or expand their operations. Recently, Mucci Farms joined that list, expanding with a 32-acre greenhouse in Tehachapi, California.

Mucci Farms — a Controlled Environment Agriculture grower — announced its expansion to Tehachapi in June as part of the company’s strategy to enhance production capabilities and accessibility to fresh produce in North America. The company’s corporate office is located in Canada.

In a press release, CEO of Mucci Farms Bert Mucci explained that the company’s focus has always been centered on expanding access to allow for a greater supply of greenhouse-grown fruits and vegetables.

The expansion is in partnership with Cox Farms — an entity of Cox Enterprises specializing in greenhouse-grown produce.

“We are committed to helping families access locally grown fruits and vegetables,” Steve Bradley, president of Cox Farms said in the press release. “Together with Mucci Farms, we aim to drive positive change in the industry while delivering on our promise of quality and environmental responsibility.”

Mucci Farms’ expansion to the Central Valley follows a 2021 expansion into Camarillo, California and now holds several locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Another greenhouse operation, Revol Greens, came to Tehachapi in 2021 to establish a 16-acre greenhouse focused on leafy greens. In April, the Midwestern company announced a mass layoff warning of 100 employees from its California location expected to take effect on June 18.

According to Tehachapi News, Revol Greens reported it produced over 16 million pounds of lettuce in Dec. 2023 where it had roughly 100 employees at the time. While the warning letter seems to cover the entirety of that workforce, Tom Thompson of Revol Greens claimed there will still be employees working following the layoff date.

While the company will continue operations in Tehachapi, the layoffs are expected to be permanent.

Locally founded agriculture companies such as Grimmway Farms have also made business headlines and a recent acquisition of San Miguel Produce solidified the Bakersfield-based company’s efforts to expand product offerings and capitalize on the fresh produce market.

Grimmway announced the acquisition in May in a press release, explaining that integrating San Miguel Produce’s fresh-cut operation resources will enhance product offerings and open numerous opportunities.

“We are well positioned to build on our many successes of 2023 and meet the ever-growing consumer demand in the industry,” Jeff Huckaby, President and CEO of Grimmway said in a press release.

Bolthouse Farms also announced business changes in May with the separation of Bolthouse into two distinct entities: Bolthouse Fresh Foods and Generous Brands. Bolthouse Fresh Foods will continue efforts in fresh carrot production, while Generous Brands will oversee fresh beverages and salad dressings.

This decision comes four years after Butterfly acquired Bolthouse Farms from Campbell Soup Company, a period during which the firm achieved over 30% topline growth. Butterfly’s co-founder and co-CEO, Adam Waglay, stated that the separation is intended to accelerate the growth of both businesses by allowing them to focus on their specific markets and capitalize on dedicated leadership teams.

MEAT PROCESSING

Central Valley Meat Co. — based in Hanford — announced the major acquisition of Cargill Meat Solutions’ Fresno processing plant in May. Historically, the beef packing industry has been dominated by a few large companies, creating a bottleneck that smaller packers have struggled to navigate. CVM’s acquisition of the Fresno plant represents a significant shift in this landscape.

CVM has been notably aggressive in expanding its operations as it purchased another family brand, Harris Ranch Beef, in 2019. The company, which began in 1993, now employs over 900 people and processes 1,500 head of cattle a day.

This growth trajectory has been beneficial for California ranchers, breaking old business stereotypes and introducing new opportunities within the market. According to Austin Snedden of Snedden Ranch, the acquisition is expected to influence competition and market dynamics for local ranchers.

Traditionally, cattle from California have been sent out of state for processing, but the expansion of Central Valley Meat offers an alternative, bolstering local competition. Despite the overall decline in cattle numbers to 40-year lows, active competition remains, ensuring continued demand.

The bright side is that, essentially Central Valley Meat is buying another business instead of going out of business,” Snedden said. “And that just shows a positive demand for beef and a price structure where people can make money right now raising cattle as well as packing cattle and retailing beef.”

AGTECH

Agriculture technology is an increasingly lucrative market as the demand for reduced labor grows. An AgTech Trends 2023 survey found that 60% of agribusinesses are planning to increase their AgTech budget with the top three areas of investment being precision agriculture tools, farm management software, and data consolidation.

As the demand for agriculture technology grows, the Central Valley is equipping itself with industry leaders such as Oxbo to meet farmers’ needs. Oxbo is a global farm machinery company that recently opened a location in Bakersfield.

With six locations in California and an international footprint in Europe and Brazil, Oxbo specializes in equipment for the specialty crop industry. Over the past 60 years, Oxbo has become a leader in specialty harvesting and controlled application technology.

Oxbo’s Bakersfield site aims to reduce manual labor in agriculture, addressing the rising cost of labor and the growing reliance on technology. By integrating AI and sensing technologies, Oxbo’s machinery enhances efficiency and crop care, requiring fewer but more skilled operators.

The company promises comprehensive support, including on-site demos, service repairs, and 24/7 assistance during harvest seasons. Oxbo’s direct sales and service model eliminates the middleman, ensuring farmers receive dedicated support and maintenance.

Along with developments in grower services, companies such as John Deere have been meticulously working on technology solutions for precision agriculture. In 2023, John Deere announced the acquisition of Smart Apply Inc. — a precision spraying equipment company.

The technology is based on research and field testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and multiple universities with the goal of increasing efficiency, precision, and profitability.

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