Oceanside, CA-based Harry Singh & Sons, one of the larger growers of California vine-ripe tomatoes, officially announced Wednesday, April 13, that effective immediately it was ceasing its operations and would not be open for business or produce a crop for the 2011 season. Concurrently, Bill Wilber, president of Oceanside Pole Tomato Sales, which exclusively handled the sales for the grower that was its only supplier, announced that his firm was also closing its operations.
Krishna Singh, general manager of Harry Singh & Sons and grandson of the company namesake, released a statement announcing the decision that had been sent to all the firm’s customers, business associates and employees. He did offer that the Singh family “will work diligently to explore all options in our efforts to reorganize and resume farming operations in 2012.”
Mr. Wilber said that it was a “very sad day,” but he expressed his gratitude for having had the opportunity to work with the Singh family for the past 11 years. “You have to have worked elsewhere to appreciate what a great situation this was for me. I was able to build a strong sales team. For seven years in a row, we collected every penny [from buyers] that we were owed. That is a testament to the people that we were able to work with because of the top quality of our product.”
Mr. Wilber said that the Harry Singh & Sons tomatoes, which were sold mostly under the “Oceanside Pole” and “Cal Tom” labels, were typically available from mid-June to November. “We would get started in mid-June and have tomatoes in July and August, but the bulk of our volume was in the fall … in September and October.”
In the last few years, Harry Singh & Sons grew tomatoes on about 1,000 acres during its season, including close to 300 acres on prime farmland on the Camp Pendleton Marine Base, located north of Oceanside along the California coast. Mr. Wilber said that the firm’s exit from the marketplace will create a supply gap that will be difficult to fill this year. “I imagine right now other growers are scrambling to drop some seed to make up the gap, but I don’t know how they are going to do it. Maybe in the fall there might be some extra Baja tomatoes to make up some of the difference. But I don’t think anyone will be able to supply the consistent top quality that we could. It’s a sad day,” he repeated.
David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA, which also leased farmland on Camp Pendleton for many years until 2003, said, “You just can’t find land like that anymore. It doesn’t exist.”
He said that there will be a supply gap of vine-ripe tomatoes in summer and fall that mostly likely will not be filled. “Most people make their farming decisions a year in advance. It’s just not that easy to add acreage. It doesn’t work that way.”
Mr. Cook said that the Singh family was a “good grower, a good packer and a strong competitor. They will be missed. Over time, someone will pick up the slack, but I don’t think it will happen this year.”
Barbara Metz, a spokesperson for Harry Singh & Sons, said that a variety of reasons led the family to the decision to halt its farming operations. She listed competition from Mexico, California’s regulatory environment, and the high cost of water and labor as key factors. There were also difficulties in the renewal of the firm’s farmland lease with Camp Pendleton that she said played a role in the decision.