Talking With A Legend

Talking With A Legend
This vegetable growing giant ranks number 2 in the West on American Vegetable Grower’s Top 100 Growers list, producing a variety of crops including its new artisan lettuce line along with other lettuces and leafy greens. The farm grows on more than 35,000 acres, shipping fresh produce throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. To produce that kind of volume, however, this industry leader has to grow the highest quality produce for the lowest price.

The Formation Of The Dynamic Duo
After World War II, George Tanimura tried his hand at a variety of ag jobs, eventually teaming up with his brothers — Tommy, Johnny (1920-2009), Bobby (1929-2006), and Charlie (1916-2000) — on a 20-acre ranch near Watsonville, CA, producing green onions.

“The onions only last so long and then the diseases start coming,” George explains. “I told my brothers that we need to plant a little lettuce. So we planted 2 acres.”

The lettuce crop on those 2 acres was sold to Bud Antle, who was part of an operation started in 1942 with his father Lester. George recalls the first lettuce sale the Tanimuras made to Bud.

“My brothers were kind of shy and they didn’t want to ask for $25 more an acre from Bud Antle,” he states. “So I asked for more. I made the first deal with Bud for $150 per acre.”

According to George, Bud tried to be a grower but realized that growing wasn’t his forte and others could produce more economically than he could, so he asked the Tanimuras to farm some of his land.

Working with Bud, the Tanimuras were farming between 300 and 400 acres and they were always profitable. Bud worked to ensure his growers always got paid, sometimes taking a loss himself, explains George. “That is how our operation grew so fast.”

Bud, who passed away in the early 1970s, is still well-known throughout the industry. “He is known as one of the most influential men of agriculture,” George adds.
In 1982, the partnership was officially formed. Today, Bud’s son Bob serves as co-chairman of the board with George, and Bob’s son Rick is the company’s CEO. Gary Tanimura, the son of George’s brother Charlie, is an executive vice president.
According to George, who has celebrated 95 birthdays, to achieve that goal requires “producing the cheapest and the best. If you don’t produce the best you aren’t going to last very long,” he says.

With the fourth generation now employed on the farm, that goal has obviously been achieved. Where did George learn how to grow superb produce using the minimum of inputs? From his father, Eijiro Tanimura, a Japanese immigrant.

Referring to him as a “lettuce man,” George says his father set up a place in Castroville and decided to make a go of farming. He recalls fondly the time his father got his first tractor.

“It was a used, beat up old thing,” George says with a laugh. “A horse could keep up with that tractor.”

On a more serious note, he adds that his father’s efforts paved the way for future generations of Tanimuras. “My father was a pioneer in lettuce, and today we are one of the largest lettuce producers.”

Overcoming Adversity

The path leading the Tanimuras to becoming a lettuce-producing giant was filled with hardships along the way. George’s mother passed away when he was 15, and his father when he was 20, and not only did he have to take over the farm, George had to care for his 12 siblings.

Four of the siblings are George’s brothers — Bobby, Johnny, Tommy, and Charlie — who all later had an equal stake in the farming operation.

“There were really tough times in the ’20s and ’30s,” he recalls. “You had to make a choice: school or eat. Wages were 15¢ an hour but you have to remember that a loaf of bread was a nickel.”

At the time George took over the family operation, they were farming about 100 acres, not all of which was lettuce. To make ends meet, the entire family had to pitch in.

“All the kids had to help out,” he says. “It isn’t like today when you have your labor force and contractors. Back then you had to find your own labor.”

Tanimura & Antle Timeline
1920s George Tanimura’s father establishes himself as a grower in Castroville, CA, producing lettuce and other crops.
1935 George’s father passes away and George takes over the operation.
1942 George is forced to stay in an internment camp and Bud Antle starts a grower/shipper operation with his father.
1947 George regroups with his brothers after the war and beings producing green onions and iceberg lettuce on a 20-acre farm in Aromas, CA.
1950s George develops an exclusive business relationship with Bud Antle.
1982 Tanimura & Antle is formed. The new company shipped 10,000 boxes of lettuce on its first day of business.
2007 Tanimura & Antle celebrates 25 years of being in business together.
2010 A hydroponic facility opens in Tennessee to grow “living lettuce,” allowing the company to branch out into specialty items.

Fallout From The War

George continued to grow the business, but things came to a grinding halt during World War II when Japanese-Americans were put in internment camps. “I thought it was going to be like Boy Scout camp and your friends and neighbors come to see you,” he says about the camp that was located in Arizona.

What he thought would be short-term dragged on for three years. Ironically, while George was held in an internment camp, his brothers were fighting for the U.S. in the war. The one positive George came away with from the internment camp was his marriage to Masaye.

Once free from the camp, he basically had to start his farming operation from scratch. Equipment and land were two necessary ingredients.

Taking the plunge, George purchased land. The highest price he paid after the war was about $650 an acre. A stark contrast to today’s prices: 1 acre near Oxnard, CA, retails for around $75,000.

Industry Highlights

George has had the privilege of participating in an industry that has seen significant changes over the years. He mentions a few advancements that played a role in the success of his operation and vegetable production in general.

– Vacuum cooling. George credits his original business partner, Bud Antle, for always looking for ways to increase efficiencies. One example is vacuum cooling. According to George, Bud was one of the first people to promote vacuum cooling, which keeps produce fresh and saves on transporation costs.

– Mechanization. In the area of harvesting, mechanized vehicles have made lettuce harvesting significantly easier, limiting the work of individuals in the field. “By saving manpower, you had an advantage over the competition,” he says.

– Irrigation. A strong proponent of drip irrigation, George says this method of irrigation will continue to greatly benefit the water-starved state of California. Not new to drip, he has been working with this irrigation method for more than 20 years. Two years ago, he recalls, California was faced with another water shortage but Tanimura & Antle was able to produce crops, thanks to its use of drip lines. “With drip, we turn it on for so many hours and then we shut it off. We don’t let it run off or evaporate too much,” he explains.

George would know. The day before the phone interview with American Vegetable Grower, he was visiting Tres Pico Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley, which is referred to as “George’s Garden.” Although the ranch is nearly two hours away from where he lives, George visits the ranch at least once a week.
With innovation always top of mind, the day before the interview George was putting in a single drip line at the ranch. Usually two lines are used, but George, a pioneer like his father, was trying to cut costs and still get the same yield.

The Growing Continues

As someone who has been through many of the ups and downs of vegetable production, George says he is confident the industry will continue to grow because “vegetables are good for you and people have to eat.”

His outlook on the future of Tanimura & Antle is just as positive. In the end, however, he says an organization is only as good as its employees. The farm wouldn’t be where it is today if not for the help of people who have been on the payroll through the years.

“I never realized that a poor farm boy could make a few bucks,” he concludes. “You can’t do it yourself, though. You have to have help and you have to have good help. And we had some good help. Going back many years, there were guys who really worked hard for us and we can’t forget those people.”

Leave a Reply

Vegetables Stories
dynasty-dsc_2035
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Outstanding Seed Company 2016 Vegetable Variety Showcase
For more information, contact Outstanding Seed Company, LLC: P.O. Box 202, Monaca, PA 15061 PHONE 877-248-4567; WEBSITE OutstandingSeed.com FAX 724-775-1544 Read More
The giant Honeycrisp apples at Burnham Orchards sell quickly
Fruits
December 3, 2016
TOMRA Acquires Compac Sorting Machine Manufacturer
Transaction to be complete in first quarter of 2017. Read More
johnnys-selected-seeds-03723-02-flaminio_cropped
More Vegetables
December 3, 2016
Johnny’s Selected Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Showcase
For more information, contact Johnny’s Selected Seeds: 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901 PHONE 877-564-6697; WEBSITE JohnnySeeds.com FAX 800-738-6314 Read More
tomatosunrisesauce-2
More Vegetables
December 2, 2016
Harris Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Showcase
For more information, contact Harris Seeds: 355 Paul Rd., P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624-0966 800-544-7938; WEBSITE HarrisSeeds.com FAX 877-892-9197; Read More
Florida cabbage field day attendees take a close look
More Vegetables
December 2, 2016
Florida Growers, Researchers Aim To Sharpen Focus On Cabbage
Field day demonstrates growing potential in cole crops. Read More
Photo credit: USDA
Citrus
December 1, 2016
Bio Huma Netics App Now Released For Android Smart Phones
App includes foliar application calculators and ability to save application data. Read More
Low-volume center pivot irrigation at Jones Potato Farm in Florida
Farm Management
December 1, 2016
Florida Farmers Are Good For The Environment
All three recipients of this year’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Awards are proof of agriculture’s longstanding commitment to conserving the Sunshine State's precious natural resources. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
December 5, 2016
South Florida Endures Driest November On…
Region has not experienced any significant rainfall since Hurricane Matthew. Read More
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Rispens Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Sho…
For more information, contact Rispens Seeds: 1357 Dutch American Way, P.O. Box 310, Beecher, IL 60401 708-946-6560; WEBSITE RispensSeeds.com FAX Read More
Crop Protection
December 4, 2016
Bio Huma Netics Opens New Lab Facility
Facility to improve quality control and help expand product line. Read More
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Outstanding Seed Company 2016 Vegetable …
For more information, contact Outstanding Seed Company, LLC: P.O. Box 202, Monaca, PA 15061 PHONE 877-248-4567; WEBSITE OutstandingSeed.com FAX 724-775-1544 Read More
Fruits
December 3, 2016
TOMRA Acquires Compac Sorting Machine Ma…
Transaction to be complete in first quarter of 2017. Read More
More Vegetables
December 3, 2016
Johnny’s Selected Seeds 2016 Veget…
For more information, contact Johnny’s Selected Seeds: 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901 PHONE 877-564-6697; WEBSITE JohnnySeeds.com FAX 800-738-6314 Read More
More Vegetables
December 2, 2016
Harris Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Show…
For more information, contact Harris Seeds: 355 Paul Rd., P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624-0966 800-544-7938; WEBSITE HarrisSeeds.com FAX 877-892-9197; Read More
Citrus
December 1, 2016
Bio Huma Netics App Now Released For And…
App includes foliar application calculators and ability to save application data. Read More
Farm Management
December 1, 2016
Florida Farmers Are Good For The Environ…
All three recipients of this year’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Awards are proof of agriculture’s longstanding commitment to conserving the Sunshine State's precious natural resources. Read More
Crop Protection
November 30, 2016
The Effect Of Soil Fertility On Fusarium…
Ongoing research sheds light on the role soil health plays in the severity of the deadly pathogen. Read More
Vegetables
November 30, 2016
Harris Moran Seed Company 2016 Vegetable…
For more information, contact Harris Moran Seed Company: 260 Cousteau Place, Suite 210, Davis, CA 95618 800-320-4672: WEBSITE hmclause.com FAX: Read More
More Vegetables
November 30, 2016
Keys To Successful Bell Pepper Productio…
Proper water management and pruning strategies can help improve yields. Read More
More Vegetables
November 29, 2016
Clifton Seed Company 2016 Vegetable Vari…
For more information, contact Clifton Seed Company P.O. Box 206, Faison, NC 28341 910-267-2690; CliftonSeed.com FAX 910-267-2692; [email protected] Read More
Citrus
November 29, 2016
Review Shows Low Risk To Aquatic Inverte…
Peer-reviewed evaluation of more than 100 studies finds uses of imidacloprid are unlikely to harm aquatic invertebrate communities, or the birds and fish that rely on them. Read More
Crop Protection
November 29, 2016
Tackle Whiteflies Head On
Reported in outdoor landscapes this year, vegetable growers must be prepared to mitigate the spread of the Q-Biotype. Read More
More Vegetables
November 29, 2016
A Laser Focus On Peppers
Avoiding “diversity for the sake of diversity,” Michigan’s Golden Plain Farms finds success with a single crop. Read More
Production
November 29, 2016
Great Lakes Ag-Tech Business Incubator L…
The incubator leverages one of the U.S.’s most productive agriculture regions to help develop and nurture ag-tech innovations. Read More