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Main Street bumps up acreage, reduces labor with new 12-bed harvest trailer

Main Street Produce Inc. in Santa Maria, CA, which undertook a significant expansion in its strawberry acreage in 2012, has bumped up its anticipated production again for 2013, with about a 20 percent increase in acreage as well as a shift in varieties, according to President Paul Allen.

In May the company was also scheduled to take delivery of a new harvesting trailer that will span 12 beds and reduce harvest labor by up to 30 percent. Pickers walk behind the trailer and place their boxes of packed clamshells on a conveyor on an arm of the machine as it moves through the field, eliminating the necessity of having to carry each box to the end of the row.

003-CalStraw-MainStreet-PauPaul Allen, president of Main Street Produce.Main Street is not the first strawberry company in California to use the machine, Mr. Allen said. Several companies are using them in the Oxnard area, and some others are already in use in Santa Maria.

It’s an $800,000 investment, he said, but “you’ve got to keep your costs reasonable in harvesting.” The hope is to “be able to pick the same amount of acreage with 30 percent fewer people.”

Every year, labor gets tighter, he said. Some growers start getting behind in the harvest “because they don’t have enough labor. We feel like these machines will help us in that situation.”

The company’s acreage increase this year is largely in the Monterey variety. “It has performed very well for us with excellent quality,” Mr. Allen said. Other varieties Main Street is growing are San Andreas and Albion. “This is our 37th strawberry season, and we have 300 acres for the 2013 crop,” he added.

“We just started picking pretty much the first of March, and we expect to pick fresh through the end of December,” Mr. Allen said. “The fields look very nice, and we are excited to continue on. We had a good year last year, so we were able to make a few changes here in the winter.”

Last season, Main Street Produce began exporting strawberries to various customers around the world, including Argentina, France, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East.

For this season, “we have acquired several new export customers, so we are looking forward to exporting more this year all over the world,” Mr. Allen said.

With regard to pack styles, Main Street does “quite a bit of one-pounders” as well as two-pound and four-pound clamshells and stem packs, and even some pints, he said. The company’s main label is “Main Street,” but toward the end of last year, Main Street introduced a new label, “Easy Street,” as an alternate for various markets.