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California carrot production dropped in 2009

by Brian Gaylord | February 27, 2010
California fresh-market carrot production in 2009 was 19.25 million hundredweight, a decline of slightly more than 5 percent from 2008 production figures, said Jerry Munson, manager of the California Fresh Carrot Advisory Board in Dinuba, CA.

The drop in production last year marked the most pronounced year-over- year change in some time. California fresh-market carrot production had held relatively steady for the past several years.

The 2008 production total of 20.29 million hundredweight was a slightly higher tally than 2007. In 2006, the tally was 20.89 million hundredweight and in 2005, the tally was 20.6 million hundredweight. Production came in at slightly over 20 million hundredweight in both 2003 and 2004.

Mr. Munson said that the depressed economy might be to blame for the lower production numbers in 2009.

"Baby-cut carrots are more expensive," Mr. Munson said. "The economy may have had an effect."

While California growers of certain crops are stymied by ongoing water issues, Mr. Munson said that he hasn't "heard of guys complaining about water" among California's carrot growers.

Mr. Munson told The Produce News in mid-February said that he anticipates that growers will "plant in accordance with the market" in 2010.

Assessment rates increased by 10 percent in 2006. At the time, only four companies -- Grimmway Farms, Wm. Bolthouse Farms, Kern Ridge Growers and Cream of the Crop -- did enough volume of business in carrots to be subject to the assessment, which means under the processor marketing order they each shipped more than 10 million pounds.

Wm. Bolthouse Farms acquired Cream of the Crop near the end of 2007, further narrowing the assessment field to just Wm. Bolthouse Farms, Grimmway Farms and Kern Ridge Growers.

Until 2010, assessment rates had stayed the same since the 2006 increase, which amounted to about 1.1 cent per 50 pounds of carrots. But in 2010, the rate rose from 1.1 cent to 1.3 cent per 50 pounds of carrots.

The increased assessment "went flying through" with full agreement, Mr. Munson said.

The California Fresh Carrot Advisory Board's budget for research in 2010 is $280,000, a slight increase over its 2009 budget, Mr. Munson said.

The board uses the money to conduct research in areas such as trying to rid carrots of the threat of nematodes and cavity spot disease. Though the majority of the board's money is aimed at production-oriented research, one research project launched in 2008 is focused on food safety. It was proposed as a two-year project trying to prove that pathogens don't enter carrot roots through irrigation water.

The food-safety research on pathogens and irrigation water has been extended and the board has yet to receive results of that research, Mr. Munson said.

The board's larger expenditures are for long-term research, Mr. Munson said. In addition to production-oriented research, it's important that California carrot growers look toward growing new carrot varieties, he said.

Advisory board members will gather March 16 for an annual carrot symposium, where they will finalize the budget and decide on research projects, Mr. Munson said.

Derek Yurosek, vice president of agricultural operations at Wm. Bolthouse Farms and chairman of the California Fresh Carrot Advisory Board, told The Produce News that the board hasn't conducted marketing activities "since the late '80s or early '90s."

Research covers a broad array of issues in part aimed at "maximizing production and minimizing chemical footprint," Mr. Yurosek said.

"We are identifying how to improve the sustainability of the crop," Mr. Yurosek said. Along the way, California carrot growers also are learning to improve the taste and appearance of their carrots, he said.

The research into the threat of nematodes is "making progress," Mr. Yurosek said. Such efforts involve research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of California system.

In the overall effort to assist California carrot growers, "all the research isn't in California," Mr. Yurosek said.

Fresh-market carrots -- including fresh-cut product -- dominate California's total carrot production. California grows upwards of 70 percent of the United States' commercially produced carrot supply, and most of California's carrots are grown in Kern County. Among the other important producing areas are Imperial County, Riverside County, the Lancaster area, the Salinas Valley, the Cuyama Valley and Fresno County.