Grimmway Farms’ Experiences in Carrots, Organic Production

Grimmway Farms

When most people think of Grimmway Farms, they think of carrots, and why not? After all, Grimmway processes 40,000 of California’s 75,000 acres of carrots, and 80% of the U.S. total is processed in the state. On an average day, they send out so many truckloads that if those trucks formed a convoy, it would stretch for 2½ miles. That’s 10 million pounds of carrots a day. And they’re doing that pretty much day in and day out, every day of the year.

Grimmway has come a long way from when brothers Bob and Rod Grimm started growing sweet corn back in the 1960s on the same ground that is now home to Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Their nephew, Jeff Meger, now serves as president of the company, which is headquartered in Bakersfield, CA. And today they process — and grow — a lot more than carrots. In fact, while they grow about 40% of the conventionally grown carrots they pack, they grow 100% of the organic vegetables they pack, carrots and otherwise.

While many people may know that with 55,000 acres, Grimmway is America’s largest grower — a glance at AVG’s Top 100 would tell you that — nearly half that acreage is organic. In other words, with 26,000 acres, Grimmway is far and away America’s biggest organic farmer. The organic division is called Cal-Organic, and it started with just a quarter acre of lettuce back in 1983.

Ground Control

In 2001, Grimmway acquired Cal-Organic, which has obviously enjoyed tremendous success. Ask him why, and Grimmway’s organic farming manager, Todd Brendlin, will tell you it’s the very fact that they own all their organic acreage. “There are no outside growers; it’s 100% in-house,” he says. “We are able to grow a consistent product year-round because we control it from the ground up.”

Brendlin’s not a member of the Grimm family, though his family is in farming. His dad, Bill Moresco, grows lettuce for Tanimura & Antle in Salinas. Brendlin also worked for his uncle at Ocean Mist Farms in the Coachella Valley before joining Grimmway in 2002. He began overseeing organic production in 2005. Right away, Brendlin was surprised at the tremendous quality they were getting.

“I never thought you could do it,” he says. “I never believed you could control the pests and nutritionally provide for the crop using organic materials.”

One factor is that organic materials have improved in recent years. But even more important, he thinks Grimmway’s strategy of planting organic crops on their best ground is huge.

By best ground, Brendlin means good soil tilth, drainage, sufficient levels of essential nutrients, plenty of microorganisms, low weed pressure, and the ideal pH range for the crop. Most vegetables thrive in the pH range of 6.0 to 7.0, and pH has enormous effects on productivity. In soils with low pH (acidic soils) phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium are most likely to be deficient.

The most common mistake growers who begin farming organically make is to use some of their worst ground for an organic crop. It’s a mistake Brendlin sees often, and he thinks it’s because the grower is doing it as an experiment, and so does not wish to risk using his best ground. But by using ground that produces marginal crops conventionally, the novice organic grower is practically guaranteeing his first organic crop won’t be successful.

“That’s what I see people doing all the time,” he says. “But crops grown
in healthy, balanced soils don’t have
to be sprayed.”

Rotation Is Crucial

Interestingly enough, the reason Grimmway farms 50-plus organic crops gets back to carrots, at least in part. Tellingly, on the conventional side, their primary focus is growing carrots and potatoes. Even with the use of soil fumigants and conventional chemicals you must have a large land base in order to rotate a root crop to prevent pests and diseases. For example, carrots are especially prone to root-knot nematodes. They don’t have the tools of using conventional soil fumigants on their organic ground. So after a carrot crop, they will rotate into a brassica, solanaceae-potato or tomato, or leafy green. “Carrots are the main driver for us,” says Brendlin. “We need crops to rotate with carrots; otherwise we’d have a lot of fallow ground sitting there.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge in organic farming is weeds. Coming over from conventional farming a few years ago, Brendlin thought there was no way they were going to be able to handle the notoriously tough nutsedge. There’s no secret to how to eliminate it; it just takes a lot of work. After every crop they go through the field with a spring tooth chisel, till up the nutsedge, and let it dry out on top of the soil. “It’s not a one-time deal — it can take several years to eliminate out of your field — but it can be done,” he says. “That’s another reason we own all our own ground, over the years we’ve been able to eliminate virtually all the weeds from our fields to the point that we have a weed-free policy.”

Weed-free does not mean sterile, though, not by a long shot. One of the rewards of organic farming, says Brendlin, is achieving a balanced healthy soil rich in organic matter that’s full of beneficial organisms and bacteria that are constantly breaking down that organic material so it can be available to the plants. Beneficial organisms also compete with and suppress disease-causing organisms. “Organic farming is a production system that sustains the health of the soils,” he concludes. “More often you are feeding the soil, not the plant.”

For more information on baby carrots, Grimmway Farms locations, and colored carrots, please turn the page

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Grimmway Farms’ Experiences in Carrots, Organic Production

  1. It is nice to see a producer who has divorced themselves from the big chemical companies. Everyone KNOWS it can be done and Cal-Orgainc is proof. We can grow our food, be just as productive, but without poisoining our envrionment and ourselves with herbicides and toxic pesticides. We can work with nature or against her.

  2. I'm making sure that your Grimway Farms carrot products that Food Lion sells do not have any sulfates or sulfites in preserving them as I have a serious allergy to sulfates & sulfites and break out in hives! Thanks for your help with this matter! Kindest regards, Marcia Kerr

  3. This article is very informative.I would want to have some practical experience in growing organic plants .Would you allow me to come to your farm and have some practical experience.I would anxiously awaiting your reply Thank

Featured Stories
iphone close-up
GenNext Growers
February 24, 2017
New Mobile Apps for Farmers to Grow on the Go
Thanks to the latest in software technology, real-time decisions can be made with one swipe of your finger. Read More
FFVA Emerging Leader Development Program Class 6 Farm Tour
GenNext Growers
February 24, 2017
In-The-Field Learning Invaluable for GenNext Growers
Annual tour allows Florida's future farming leaders the chance to have open and honest discussions with CEOs and managers and tap into their knowledge. Read More
Grower Achievement Award
February 24, 2017
Know a Vegetable Grower Who’s Innovative and Stands Above the Rest?
Then nomination him or her for American Vegetable Grower magazine’s 2017 Grower Achievement Award. Read More
Apples & Pears
February 24, 2017
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of a Solid Foundation in Your Orchard
Trellising study helps growers understand the basics of setting up an orchard infrastructure properly. Read More
Berries
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry Production
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
Fruits
February 23, 2017
First California Ag Innovation Showcase Announced
University of California, Davis will be the setting for a ground-breaking conference on emerging technology for food and high-value agriculture. Read More
sclerotinia
Disease Control
February 23, 2017
Spot Sclerotinia Before It Stops Your Vegetable Crop
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this malady that goes by many names. Read More
2017 Florida Strawberry Picking Challenge winners
Berries
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big Winner for Charity
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More
Florida potato field in bloom.
Citrus
February 22, 2017
New Insecticide Available to Combat Sucking, Chewing Pests
Minecto Pro from Syngenta has received EPA approval for use in specialty and vegetable crops to control lepidopteran and other pests. Read More
Farm Management
February 22, 2017
Farms Get Bigger Even as the Number of Farms Decline
A new report from USDA shows long-term trends continuing: fewer farms and fewer acres used in farming even as individual operations get bigger on average. Read More
The Latest
GenNext Growers
February 24, 2017
New Mobile Apps for Farmers to Grow on t…
Thanks to the latest in software technology, real-time decisions can be made with one swipe of your finger. Read More
GenNext Growers
February 24, 2017
In-The-Field Learning Invaluable for Gen…
Annual tour allows Florida's future farming leaders the chance to have open and honest discussions with CEOs and managers and tap into their knowledge. Read More
Grower Achievement Award
February 24, 2017
Know a Vegetable Grower Who’s Innovative…
Then nomination him or her for American Vegetable Grower magazine’s 2017 Grower Achievement Award. Read More
Apples & Pears
February 24, 2017
Don’t Underestimate the Importance…
Trellising study helps growers understand the basics of setting up an orchard infrastructure properly. Read More
Berries
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry P…
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
Fruits
February 23, 2017
First California Ag Innovation Showcase …
University of California, Davis will be the setting for a ground-breaking conference on emerging technology for food and high-value agriculture. Read More
Disease Control
February 23, 2017
Spot Sclerotinia Before It Stops Your Ve…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this malady that goes by many names. Read More
Berries
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big…
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More
Citrus
February 22, 2017
New Insecticide Available to Combat Suck…
Minecto Pro from Syngenta has received EPA approval for use in specialty and vegetable crops to control lepidopteran and other pests. Read More
Farm Management
February 22, 2017
Farms Get Bigger Even as the Number of F…
A new report from USDA shows long-term trends continuing: fewer farms and fewer acres used in farming even as individual operations get bigger on average. Read More
Farm Management
February 22, 2017
Wild Bee Populations Are out of Sync wit…
Some crops most dependent on pollinators, including pumpkins, watermelons, pears, peaches, plums, apples and blueberries, appeared to have the strongest pollination mismatch. Read More
Citrus
February 22, 2017
Skilled Labor Needed to Keep Agriculture…
Even with the challenge of feeding a growing global population at hand, has focus been lost on recruiting where jobs on the farm are need most? Read More
Varieties & Rootstocks
February 22, 2017
Citrus Nurseries Analyze the Need for Se…
It seems many growers are more certain about their scion choices than they are about available rootstocks. Read More
Food Safety
February 21, 2017
Food Safety Modernization Act Creeping F…
Massive regulatory overhaul unfolds as the specialty crop industry hopes to ensure common-sense food safety rules and inspection. Read More
Apples & Pears
February 21, 2017
Snow Doesn’t Stop Day 1 of IFTA Conferen…
While the Wenatchee, WA, area has experienced higher-than expected snowfall, tour-goers trudge on to learn the latest about advanced production systems and high-value apple varieties. Read More
Grapes
February 18, 2017
Sustainability Is a Growing Factor in Wi…
California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance updates certification program, shows sustainability is important part of wine trade. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
February 18, 2017
The War on Citrus Psyllids Still Raging
Despite control challenges, keeping the pest in check remains the best approach to managing HLB. Read More
Citrus
February 17, 2017
How Precision Agriculture Is Helping Far…
New Florida-based organization is seeking to break down barriers between farmers and shoppers by providing a platform to not only show what is grown, but how it's grown. Read More