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Double D plans organic melons year round

Double D Farms in Coalinga, CA, is a vertically integrated, diversified grower-packer-shipper that produces a wide assortment of produce items both conventionally and organically, but focuses mainly on fresh organic produce for retail and wholesale customers.

Double D has farming operations in Mexico as well as in California. “The crops that we grow up in this area [the west side of California’s San Joaquin Valley] are organic and conventional blueberries, organic onions, organic cantaloupes, and organic corn,” as well as nuts, said Gurdeep S. Billan, director of sales. The company also is in the cotton business and the cattle business.

“We are year-round,” he said. “We transition down to Mexico in the fall and winter months. We are the largest growers of organic asparagus in North America, fall through spring. We also grow organic celery, broccoli and cabbage.”

When The Produce News talked with Mr. Billan June 1, Double D was “currently harvesting cantaloupe in [California’s] Imperial Valley” in southern California. “We will be finishing up down there” toward the end of June and starting on the West Side probably a few days after the Fourth of July, he said. “It has been quite cool, so that is pushing our harvest date” later than usual. “I would say we are at least two weeks behind schedule due to the cool weather.”

In the past, Double D’s melon program has not included winter production — but that is about to change. “Our future plans are to have a continuous supply of organic melons year-round,” Mr. Billan said. “The company has acreage in Mexico” on which “we currently farm [organic] asparagus and our winter vegetables.” The plan is to grow organic cantaloupes on some of that acreage, starting this coming fall, and “to ensure that we are fully certified to do so,” for the fall and winter season.

Some of that acreage is in the San Luis Valley just south of Yuma, AZ, which is the company’s main growing area for “most of our [winter] vegetables” and for some asparagus. In addition, Double D plans to grow winter cantaloupes at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

“It won’t be abundant acreage” for the first year “as we have here in the [San Luis] Valley. It will be our first test year,” he said.

“We continue to see a growing trend in organics,” Mr. Billan said. “To be able to assist in growing the organic category,” Double D will need to grow organic cantaloupes “in relative volume to the needs of retailers. The key concept for us is to grow enough acreage to where it is feasible” for the company’s conventional retailers to carry the product, not only from a cost standpoint but also from the standpoint of consistent supplies. “So our focus is to build a consistent supply of organic cantaloupe, with comparable quality to conventional,” and also to compete on price “by improving our efficiencies” and increasing per-acre yields on the farm.

Double D packs in the “Double D” label, and “for organic, our label says, [in addition], ‘Premium Organic Cantaloupes,’“ he said. One of the challenges conventional retailers have with organic produce is “being able to distinguish their organic items” from their conventional items, he said. Double D addresses that issue at the field level with cantaloupes by putting an identifying band around each individual melon.