Grimmway Farms President Jeff Huckaby Discusses Water, Wages and Organics
BAKERSFIELD, CA, February 8, 2017— It’s no secret that California farmers face a complex challenge. During the past year, consumers upped the ante on demand for organics, California state legislature passed two bills mandating changes to farmworker pay and the drought shook its dry finger at everyone involved.
In a nutshell, farmers are charged to use less water, pay more wages, reduce costs and increase production. With the odds against them and the stakes high as ever, growers embrace the bumpy road ahead, confident that the industry will emerge stronger than before. In the midst of all of this, Bakersfield-based Grimmway Farms sees light at the end of the tunnel.
Water is the oldest of the issues at hand, and one that growers in California know all too well. In a state famous for dry, arid deserts and cyclical periods of drought, farmers use these attributes to their advantage. “What makes it such a great place to farm is perfect soil, perfect sunshine and the ability to control the exact time we irrigate our crops,” says Jeff Huckaby, who celebrates his first year as President of Grimmway Farms this week.
Grimmway takes a calculated approach at managing operations around this scarce resource—literally. They’ve found the very best areas to grow and they migrate between regions to capture prime growing conditions year-round. “We calibrate each season for optimal quality, matching crops with specific acreage considering the availability of water,” says Huckaby. “The advances we’ve made in the recent past have left us well-equipped to withstand the drought.”
Wage policies make for a muddier situation, but one that Grimmway has been committed to resolving in order to protect and provide for its employees. Minimum wage is scaling to reach $15 by 2022, and the state has lifted a longstanding exemption that allowed farm laborers to work well past an 8-hour day.
While the topic is sensitive, Huckaby says the solution is simple. “When you have a wage that’s rising every single year, it hits the bottom line in a drastic way,” he says. “Cost of labor is going up significantly, so our efforts to increase efficiency have been crucial. It’s made us think outside the box.”
To minimize the effect this has on consumers, Grimmway has proactively sought ways to mechanize where they can and develop a more skilled workforce where they can’t. “A lot of what we grow is hand-selected, hand-harvested and hand-packed, resulting in a very high-quality end product,” Huckaby explains. “We won’t cut quality, so we’ve introduced more automation and built more value into each job.”
Investing in training and technology follows Grimmway’s tradition of innovation and integrity, and the changes come just in time to help scale with continued growth in the organic category. “The organic market is just booming, and we don’t see that going away,” says Huckaby.
He explains that retail partners across the board are ready to build their program to keep consumers coming back. “We believe in the benefits these crops bring our customers and the environment. Given the market’s response, we’re making the right decisions for both,” says Huckaby, who helped Grimmway launch their organic division in the early 90s. “We convert more and more land every year, and luckily it’s paid off.”
Fast-growing demand for organics mixed with cost-driving employment policies and an environmental crisis have created a pressure cooker of problems for the industry to solve. Huckaby views the outcome as an area of opportunity, and Grimmway is proving that we can always do more with less.
About Grimmway Farms
Headquartered in Bakersfield, California, Grimmway Farms traces its roots to a produce stand opened by the Grimm brothers in the early 1960s. Grimmway is a global produce leader and the world’s largest producer of carrots. Grimmway supplies more than 65 organic, USA-grown crops and brands include Cal-Organic Farms and Bunny-Luv. Grimmway is committed to caring for customers and employees, honoring sustainable practices and preserving natural resources for future generations. For more information, explore our website or call 1-800-301-3101.