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Uesugi Farms awaits Bell pepper deal, sees acreage increase

by Joel Gebet | April 19, 2010
Pete Aiello is looking forward to late April.

Mr. Aiello, general manager of Uesugi Farms Inc., said that this is when the Gilroy, CA-based grower-packer-shipper will kick off its Bell pepper deal, and he expected this to be when the "high green and red Bell pepper market will come back down to earth."

"Markets should normalize when California really gets going with some volume," Mr. Aiello told The Produce News April 7. "We'll have red Bell peppers by the end of May in Coachella [CA]."

Uesugi Farms has expanded its Euro display pack line to fulfill the increased demand for place-packed, stickered peppers, he said.

"We've added an entirely new leg to our existing packing machine that includes stickering, sorting and packing capabilities," he said. "There is an increased demand out there for a high-recovery pack, and by expanding our Euro display line, we'll be able to pack more cartons for those customers looking for a premium place-packed pepper."

In addition to its pepper deal, Mr. Aiello said that Uesugi Farms is "a major grower-packer-shipper" of chili peppers, Napa cabbage, bok choy and pumpkins. It has seen its acreage in California and Mexico "increase approximately 25 percent across the board" since last year, bringing its total up to about 6,500 acres.

Uesugi Farms is dedicating a small amount of its chili pepper acreage to fresh-market sales, Mr. Aiello said.

"We have a nice following on our chili peppers in the West Coast and Midwest," he said. "While we've dabbled in the fresh-market chili business over the years, most of our acreage has gone to processing," and now Uesugi Farms would like to go after retail and foodservice business as well.

He said that the firm will be expanding the eggplant program that it started last year.

"We grew five acres of eggplant last fall in Coachella, and this year we're going to grow some in Bakersfield and Gilroy as well," he said. "As with our fresh- market chili pepper program, we're going to start small and see where it goes."

Mr. Aiello was also proud of Uesugi Farms' new 25,000-square-foot cooler. "This is our second full year in our brand-new cooler, and it has worked out great," he said. "Trucks are getting loaded quickly, in an efficient manner, and there is very little wait time. This year we're adding a flow rack system that should make the cooler even more efficient."