Valley Agribusiness Vol 7 - 2024

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Growing on the edge of opportunity

Since the early 1900s, hardy farmers bucked conventional wisdom to grow Imperial County and the surrounding desert into the vital agricultural super-producer it is today. Yet even as the region harvests commodities most recently valued at $2.61 billion, Imperial Valley ag remains an enigma to many, a source of confusion to some, and a complete unknown to others.

Perhaps that is understandable. IV ag remains an outlier, growing on the southeasternmost edge of California, on the cutting edge of possibilities to supply the needs of the nation and the world. It is at this intersection that opportunity blossoms, and things get interesting.

We launched Valley Agribusiness & Desert Growing Digest as an annual publication six years ago with the firm belief that stories about the Imperial Valley’s bedrock industry and those who make it run deserve to be told in a much more compelling and in-depth manner than normally appear in typical perfunctory media coverage.

In this seventh edition of Valley Agribusiness, we invite you to go beyond the shroud of mystery and join us as we dig beyond the routine and oft-repeated headlines to learn more about the people and the unique region that is instrumental in producing the commodities important to the nation and world.

Numbers can help paint the picture. Did you know that Imperial County was California’s top carrot producer in 2021-22, according to the latest figures available? And that is in addition to being the state’s top producer of alfalfa, sudan grass and miscellaneous livestock (such as calves, dairy animals, Wagyu cattle and others). The county is also the only one in California to grow sugar

beets, harvesting a crop valued at almost $54 million in 2022.

And believe it or not, Imperial County harvested nearly a quarter of the state’s dates and roughly 20 percent of the state’s lettuce, spinach, and cantaloupe. Any way you slice it, Imperial Valley’s prodigious harvest makes it a standout in the state that is widely recognized as the nation’s top ag producer. Imperial County ranks No. 9 out of the 58 California counties in total ag production value.

Even beyond the big numbers, Imperial Valley agriculture stands out. There is inevitably something new sprouting. Valley growers are game to try something different: a new crop, different technology, and improved water conservation methods.

This year, one grower was willing to turn up the heat to help satisfy consumer’s palates. Check out the article about Alex Jack’s recently harvested red jalapeños, a key ingredient in Sriracha sauce.

Growers here are quick to prove the rural legend that virtually anything under the sun can grow. In 2022, nearly 80 different crops grew in Imperial Valley. That includes everything from large acreage field crops such as alfalfa, Sudan grass, and wheat down to those grown on just a few acres, such as quinoa and barley.

Everything from aloe vera to spinach, spirulina algae, tangerines, and much more grows in the Imperial Valley thanks to more than 450,000 acres of farmland, available water, and a climate conducive to growing crops year-round.

That exceptional crop diversity is important in maintaining local and agricultural economic resilience in the event of whatever crisis may be lurking on the horizon. While crop variety is great for the economy, it can befuddle the casual viewer, including those

on this magazine’s staff.

Those perennial questions about something never seen before prompted us to launch a new feature in this edition that we hope you will enjoy. Check out “What’s That?” which appears on pages scattered through the magazine. The feature will take an upclose look at some of the novel and often unexpected crops under cultivation as well as devices used to conserve water.

For this feature, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, the Imperial Irrigation District, the Imperial County Farm Bureau, and the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association. Each of the organizations during the year has stepped up its efforts to communicate more about what is unique and valuable about Valley agriculture on their social media outlets, by offering tours and posting videos.

While the desert environment provides an unexpected opportunity, it takes much more than that to plant the seeds of what is today’s agricultural powerhouse. This edition offers a pair of articles that look back at some of the individuals and farms that pioneered Valley agribusiness in the last century.

We also hope you enjoy some of the articles featured in this edition that recognize some of the standouts in the agribusiness today, I.C. Farm Bureau’s Farmer of the Year Ron Rubin and recently retired county Agricultural Commissioner Carlos Ortiz.

And check out both the Farm Bureau’s and Valley Vegetable Grower’s columns to get an even better understanding of why we hope you enjoy the magazine and come away with a better understanding about the industry and people driven to keep pioneering a bright future for Valley agribusiness and the nation’s commodity supplies. n


This unique-looking vegetable with faceted, jewel-like peaks and chartreuse color is Romanesco. It grew on 44 acres in Imperial County in 2022. Also known as Romanesco broccoli, broccoflower or Roman cauliflower, this hybrid is prized for its appearance and mild taste.

Publishers’ Message


Bill Gay

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Susan Giller

Peggy Dale

Bill Amidon


Rachel Garewal

Rachel Magos

Robert D. Schettler

Darren Simon

Shelby Trimm


Ashley Jauregui/Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner's Off ice


Alejandra Noriega

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Bill Amidon

Susan Giller

Peggy Dale

Joselito N. Villero Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner's Off ice

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The wheat harvest from 48,422 acres was valued at $65,807,000, according to the 2022 Imperial County Agricultural Crop & Livestock Report.

- Photo by Ashley Jauregui/Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner's Office

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The history of agriculture in the Imperial Valley is, at its heart, a story of pioneering men and women who saw potential in what California’s far southeast could be and were willing to endure the harsh environment to turn the untamed desert into some of the most productive farmland in the state.

Mix in politics, disaster, litigation, and the tale becomes complicated, but in the end, it is a story of the people who saw the promise of new beginnings on land that was on the verge of a green renaissance.

From 1901 through the early years of the 1900s, when the California Development Co. took over the effort to direct Colorado River water into the Valley, thousands moved to the region to start their farms, dairies and feedyards and to help build the critical water infrastructure not only for their own needs but for their neighbors as well.

Today, the system of canals they built still irrigate the region’s 400,000 acres of farmland and the crops that feed the nation and the

Promise of new beginnings

William E. Young Sr. - Photos provided by the Young family - Photo provided by Jack Bros.


Motors that drive the pumps and underground perforated tile lines that intercept subsurface seepage water from the East Highline Canal. This water is pumped back into the canal before it is lost or causes higher than desired water elevation in adjacent farm ground, saving a little over 1,000 acre-feet of water every year.. - Photo provided by IID


It is on the shoulders of those who came before that agriculture continues to succeed under modern day challenges — and opportunities — that will mark a path for the future of farming and ranching in the Valley.

Among those early pioneers was Hardy McConnell, who in 1908, founded McConnell

Ranch with his son, Leslie McConnell, near what is today Highway 111 and McConnell Road.

Paula Pangle, Hardy McConnell’s greatgranddaughter, still runs the family’s ranch and farming operation today.

She remembers the stories of how her great-grandfather came to the Valley after

already having successful farming and dairy operations in the Corona area. Hardy, like many others, traveled 14 days to the Imperial Valley, driving two teams of horses, pulling wagons hauling farm implements, chickens, and leading a cow to begin a new farm in the


East Highline Canal. - Photo provided by the Young family
VALLEY AGRIBUSINESS & DESERT GROWING DIGEST 8 CROP YEAR HARVESTED ACRES YIELD PER ACRE TOTAL UNITS UNIT VALUE PER UNIT GROSS VALUE Broccoli (Market) 2022 11,981 639.89 7,666,509 26 Lbs $12.13 $92,982,000 2021 12,591 461.1 5,805,742 26 Lbs $22.78 $132,228,000 Cabbage (Market) 2022 1,598 864.16 1,380,928 45 Lbs $10.55 $14,567,000 2021 2,055 543.22 1,116,322 45 Lbs $11.04 $12,326,000 Carrots Market 2022 3,882 533.32 2,070,491 50 Lbs $13.87 $28,714,000 2021 3,870 820.48 3,175,238 50 Lbs $5.44 $17,282,000 Processing & Other 2022 9,059 32.32 292,775 Ton $137.61 $40,290,000 2021 9,030 31.66 285,876 Ton $161.29 $46,109,000 Total Carrots 2022 12,941 $69,004,000 2021 12,900 $63,391,000 Cauliflower (Market) 2022 3,535 842.03 2,976,572 23 Lbs $12.54 $37,341,000 2021 5,740 707.45 4,060,738 23 Lbs $14.89 $60,476,000 Head Lettuce Naked Pack 2022 2,365,937 50 Lbs $18.89 $44,687,000 2021 2,663,182 50 Lbs $17.27 $45,984,000 Wrap Pack 2022 5,914,843 40 Lbs $13.94 $82,475,000 2021 6,657,954 40 Lbs $13.13 $87,441,000 Bulk 2022 4,731,874 50 Lbs $18.89 $89,374,000 2021 5,326,363 50 Lbs $17.27 $91,969,000 Total Head Lettuce 2022 15,149 13,012,654 Ctn $16.64 $216,536,000 2021 15,629 14,647,499 Ctn $15.39 $225,394,000 Leaf Lettuce 2022 9,542 760.3 7,254,744 35 Lbs $19.45 $141,110,000 2021 10,654 562.18 5,989,485 35 Lbs $20.72 $124,120,000 Onion Market 2022 3,424 1,079.00 3,694,496 50 Lbs $10.61 $39,199,000 2021 3,483 1,742.40 6,068,779 50 Lbs $4.63 $28,123,000 Processing 2022 14,543 19.09 277,626 Ton $154.92 $43,011,000 2021 11,394 18.84 214,634 Ton $161.57 $34,679,000 Total Onions 2022 17,967 $82,210,000 2021 14,877 $62,802,000 Spinach 2022 7,584 12,176.13 92,343,732 Lbs $0.98 $90,497,000 2021 7,701 8,365.60 64,423,486 Lbs $0.97 $62,362,000 Sweet Corn 2022 7,054 423 2,983,842 50 Lbs $8.14 $24,285,000 2021 8,046 369.81 2,975,491 50 Lbs $10.32 $30,700,000 Romaine Lettuce 2022 7,480 1,025.89 7,673,625 35 Lbs $6.33 $48,606,000 2021 8,650 759.72 6,571 ,590 35 Lbs $9.75 $64,068,000 Misc. Vegetables1/ 2022 27,996 $265,888,000 2021 21,404 $166,295,000 Cantaloupes 2022 3,211 837.17 2,688,142 40 Lbs $8.91 $23,956,000 2021 4,382 624.5 2,736,559 40 Lbs $10.11 $27,672,000 Honeydew & Misc. Melons 2022 1,208 910.04 1,099,330 40 Lbs $7.83 $8,609,000 2021 994 998.6 992,608 40 Lbs $7.31 $7,258,000 TOTAL 2022 ACRES 127,246 VALUE $1,115,591,000 TOTAL 2021 ACRES 125,623 VALUE $1,039,092,000 VEGETABLES & MELONS CROPS 1/Misc. Vegetables may include: Arugula, Artichoke, Beets, Bok Choy, Celery, Cilantro, Collard, Endive, Gai Lon, Garlic, Kale, Mizuna, Mustard, Napa Cabbage, Okra, Parsley, Parsnip, Potato, Radish, Rapini, Swiss Chard, Turnip, Watermelon, Vegetable Leaf. Totals do not add due to rounding.


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Call Steve Sharp when you have produce to donate in the Valley. He will quickly send a truck - either from our fleet or a trusted carrier - to pick up the donation.

Your donation will be distributed through the food bank system within the community of Imperial County.

Donors can receive documentation to help secure a tax credit.


Quick Disposal of Surplus Product

With a reliable, on-time pickup from a professional carrier, growers avoid dumping fees, eliminate costs to run a cooler and recoup costs for product that would otherwise be underutilized.

Strengthen Local Communities With Nutritious Food

Any surplus you donate will automatically be offered to your local food bank first, which enables you to give back to your community and can generate positive publicity for your business.

Federal Tax Deduction +15% State Tax Credit

California growers donating California-grown fresh fruits or fresh vegetables to a food bank in state are eligible for a federal tax deduction and a 15% tax credit. The law defines an eligible grower as the person responsible for planting, managing, and harvesting the donated crop.

Contact CAFB Food Solicitor Steve Sharp at 760-497-4720

Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association

IV Vegetable Growers work the cutting edge for better crops

Providing the nation with the freshest, safest, and most nutritious produce does not begin when the first seed is planted in Imperial Valley soil. Nor does the grower’s work end when the latest bountiful harvest is shipped to markets nationwide and beyond. Imperial Valley vegetable growers work year-round to perfect what they grow and how they grow it because consumers’ hunger for produce never ends.

Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association (IVVGA) members unite in their commitment to improving food safety, conserving water, and implementing environmentally friendly cultural practices, all while meeting the nation’s need for fresh produce. And growers implement these principles in many ways that are as unique as the Imperial Valley.

Valley vegetable growers constantly search out cutting-edge ways to improve yields, reduce costs, and yield better harvests to take advantage of the region’s unique winter produce season. Growers’ savvy, coupled with the Valley’s sun, fertile soil, and available water, resulted in harvested produce valued at $1.1 billion in 2022, according to the most recent totals available.

Some growers turn to new technology to perfect how they cultivate their fields. Others implement new and different methods to conserve water while maintaining and even improving crop yields. Still, other farmers focus on different seed varieties – or a new crop entirely – depending on market conditions, changing consumer preferences, or other factors.

Just recently, Brawley grower Alex Jack of Jack Bros. Inc. spiced things up with the harvest of his 164-acre crop of red jalapeño

peppers, a key ingredient to making the wildly popular Sriracha sauce. Over the past few years, a shortage of the popular sweetspicy sauce in the market left consumers up in arms. Sriracha sauce manufacturer Huy Fong Foods cited a lack of red jalapeño pepper supply for closing its Los Angeles area processing facility, which triggered the sauce shortage.

Though consumer enthusiasm for spicy peppers may be new, growing sweet, bell, and hot peppers in the Valley is nothing new, according to Jack. Over the years, however, pepper imports from south of the border have priced Valley growers out of the market – at least until now.

Having to pivot because of market conditions, weather, and other factors is familiar to Valley vegetable growers. It does, however, encourage growers to assess new crops and more efficient ways to grow. In 2022, Valley growers harvested everything from arugula to watermelon. And those outliers bookend a multitude of large acreage Valley crops, including broccoli, cauliflower, multiple varieties of lettuce, spinach, onions, melons, and more.

Thanks to its bountiful harvest, Imperial Valley was California’s largest producer of carrots and the second-largest producer of lettuce, broccoli, spinach, dry onions, sweet corn, and cantaloupes in 2021-22, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture latest figures.

The variety of produce and the Valley’s unique winter harvest season explain why the region is renowned for being the nation’s winter salad bowl. Yet the crops listed barely scratch the surface of the produce diversity that challenges growers and helps the Valley produce industry thrive.

Growing such a variety of produce protects the inevitable dip in the value of some crops. For instance, the value of the Valley’s broccoli

crop was $92.98 million in 2022, down nearly $40 million from the prior year. At the same time, the value of the spinach crop was up more than $28 million, and the value of onions was up nearly $20 million to $82.2 million.

The miscellaneous vegetable crop posted a total value of $265.9 million in 2022, up more than $100 million from the prior year. That category lumps together an assortment of produce crops that individually do not reach the multimillion-dollar threshold to be listed separately. The category includes artichokes, beets, bok choy, cilantro, endive, gai lon, kale, potato, radish, Swiss chard, and more.

The Valley’s crop diversity provides economic security and potential headaches for growers. Consider the challenge of onions. Yellow, white, and red onions are routinely grown in the Valley. Each crop must be isolated from the others to prevent crosspollination and degradation of the variety. For the same reason, there is also a 2 to 2.5-mile minimum planting distance requirement for brassica crops, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and others in the mustard family.

Then, there are food safety requirements that specify the distance that growers must maintain between their produce fields and livestock. Meeting that requirement becomes even more of a challenge with sheep that winter on Valley agricultural fields and are moved periodically from one field to another.

Adhering to the regulations would only be possible with accurate information about what crops are planted where. IVVGA has developed three online “pinning” maps working with growers: one for onion varieties, one for brassica crops, and the last a cooperative venture to help sheep herders move and “field” their flocks away from fields with produce. n


Vessey & Co. A centennial of farming success

When Jack Vessey was a teen growing up in the Holtville area, watching his father run the family’s farm, he knew what he wanted to do – become a farmer like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

There were times when his father, the late Jon Vessey, would tell him that he could choose any career he wanted, and that the only reason to become a farmer would be if he truly had a passion for it. The elder Vessey told his son becoming a farmer would not be easy.

For Jack, there was never a question. He wanted to be a fourth-generation farmer.

Today, he serves as president of the family’s farm, Vessey & Co., the produce company based near Holtville.

In 2023, the company celebrated its centennial, a unique accomplishment even in the Imperial Valley, where generational farms mark every corner of the Imperial Valley and continue to drive the success of the region’s agricultural economy.

The significance of this milestone means

a great deal to Jack to honor the efforts of those who came before him and for the ongoing effort of everyone who today works as part of Vessey & Co. to ensure the operation's success even during challenging times.

“The legacy of all the hard work it took to build this up and pass it down from one generation to the next is meaningful,” said Jack, 48, who resides in rural Holtville with

In this historical photo, crops are transported from the Vessey’s farm near Holtville. - Photo courtesy of Vessey & Co.
Jack Vessey’s grandfather, the late Jackson Vessey, is pictured in a Vessey & Co.’s garlic field during his years of leading the family farm. - Photo courtesy of Vessey & Co.

Over the past several months, a vegetable farmer in the Imperial Valley pulled off an improbable feat that may help solve an urgent supply shortage — at least for those who crave some extra heat in their rice, soup, noodles or stir-fry.

Shoppers who set out to buy a bottle of Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha sauce in recent years likely went home empty-handed. That’s because in 2022, after churning out the sauce for decades, the company in Los Angeles County ran out of its key ingredient — red jalapeños — and shut down its processing plant.

For 28 years, Huy Fong sourced all of its peppers from Ventura County farmer Craig Underwood of Underwood Ranches. But in 2017, the partnership collapsed after a

payment dispute that led to a jury awarding $23 million to the farmer.

Since then, Huy Fong, while secretive about its suppliers, has reportedly sourced jalapeños from farmers in Mexico and the southwestern U.S., but with mixed results. A couple years ago, the company announced a lack of inventory had left it “unable to produce any of our products.”

The “severe shortage” persisted for more than a year, leaving restaurants and hot sauce aficionados in dire straits. Last summer, thirdparty retailers were selling the iconic greencapped bottles, previously worth about $5, for as much as $150.

Huy Fong blamed its supply issues on drought-related crop disasters across multiple growing seasons, though other hot sauce

VALLEY AGRIBUSINESS & DESERT GROWING DIGEST 13 1698 Jones St., Suite 4, Brawley • 760-623-7299 Hours: 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday • 7 a.m. - 12 p.m. Saturday LARGE INVENTORY CUSTOM HYDRAULIC HOSES
Sorrows fade as new farms harvest jalapeños
Alex Jack. - Photo provided by IID

Imperial County Farm Bureau

AAlfalfa: A desert gem

lfalfa is a remarkably versatile legume recognized for its multifaceted contributions across agriculture, nutrition, and consumer industries. Often recognized for its pivotal role in livestock feed, alfalfa's influence extends far beyond, permeating various facets of human consumption and industrial applications. In many areas, including the Imperial Valley, maximizing water use efficiency while maintaining agricultural productivity is crucial.

Alfalfa stands out as a beneficial crop that offers significant advantages in water management. Its deep root system, ability to add nitrogen to the soil, and multiple uses make alfalfa an excellent choice for sustainable water utilization in agriculture. And that is in addition to its

foundational role in livestock nutrition and its incorporation into consumer goods, highlighting its significance in promoting health, sustainability, and economic prosperity.

Alfalfa's agricultural importance stems primarily from its role as a high-quality forage crop. Widely cultivated across the globe, and one of Imperial County’s top commodities, alfalfa serves as a primary feed source for livestock, including dairy cows, beef cattle, horses, sheep, and poultry. Its exceptional nutritional profile, characterized by high protein content, vitamins, and minerals, supports optimal animal growth, reproduction, and milk production.

Moreover, alfalfa's deep root system aids in soil structure improvement, erosion control, and nutrient cycling, making it a valuable component of sustainable farming systems and crop rotations.

The consumption of alfalfa by livestock

yields a spectrum of valuable byproducts that play integral roles in human nutrition. Dairy cows fed alfalfa produce milk rich in essential nutrients, including calcium, protein, and vitamins, which are further processed into dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and butter. Similarly, meat and eggs from animals raised on alfalfarich diets are esteemed for their superior taste, nutritional quality, and sustainability. The utilization of alfalfa in livestock feed underscores its crucial role in supporting both animal health and the production of nutrient-dense, high-quality animal-derived goods.

Alfalfa's nutritional prowess extends beyond the barnyard to human consumption, offering a plethora of health benefits. Alfalfa sprouts, packed with vitamins (A, C, K), minerals (calcium, magnesium), and antioxidants, are a



Small, distinctive purple flowers are the hallmark of alfalfa, an important forage crop used as a primary food for dairy cows.

Alfalfa harvested in Imperial County was valued at $269.7 million in 2022, making it the second most valuable crop produced here.

- Photo provided by

Ron Rubin named Farmer of the Year


hat Ron Rubin was named the 2023 Jim Kuhn Memorial Farmer of the Year during the Imperial County Farm Bureau’s annual membership meeting last October likely came as no surprise to anyone but him.

“They did a pretty good job of covering their tracks,” said Rubin, noting he was taken aback by the award. The Farm Bureau’s top honor comes in the wake of another prestigious honor given earlier in the year to Rubin, of Rubin Seeds, LLC. In June, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Brawley surprised Rubin with the Branding Iron Award during the 2023 Branding Iron Gala in Brawley.

In announcing Rubin as the 18th annual Jim Kuhn Farmer of the Year, a Farm Bureau press release recognized him for “his tireless work, innovative contributions to the agriculture industry, immense generosity to our community, and devotion to his family.”

"The ag industry and entire community of Imperial Valley are lucky to have Ron,” said Farm Bureau President Scott Emanuelli. “He is an amazing advocate for ag and a generous supporter of the community. Ron is one of the hardest workers I’ve met."

Born in Brawley to John and Sadie Rubin, he grew up in a farming family in the Holtville area.

He earned his associate degree in Ag Engineering from Imperial Valley College before transferring to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Ag Engineering.

He and his wife, Linda, married in 1974 in Holtville and moved to Oakland, where Ron worked for the Federal Land Bank. They returned to the Imperial Valley a few years later, where Ron went to work for the Federal Land Bank in El Centro. In 1978, they moved to Brawley when Rubin was named manager of the Imperial-Yuma Production Credit Association.

Then, thanks to Bob and John Fifield and Jack Kappeler, he was given the opportunity to get back into production agriculture.

“They taught me much of what I know about Bermadagrass seed production today,” Rubin said. “I will always be thankful for the opportunities they gave me.”

The seeds of innovation were sown early in Rubin’s life, coming


This field west of El Centro full of stalks topped with balls of tiny white flowers is the hallmark of onion seed ripening. In 2022, Valley growers harvested 446 acres of onion seed. - Photo provided by Imperial County Farm Bureau

CFarm Bureau ‘Friend’ honors a humble public servant

arlos Ortiz was taken by surprise when the Imperial County Farm Bureau named him the 2023 Betty Young Memorial Friend of the Farmer at its annual membership meeting in October.

“I am thankful to the committee that selected me, because I’m well aware of others who deserve this award,” said Ortiz, who retired in March 2023 as the Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner.

A man of humble demeanor with an expansive grasp of the role Imperial County plays in the world of agriculture, Ortiz, 64, describes farming as a family tradition. It’s one that, for Ortiz, began in the fields near Oxnard, working alongside his father, mother and siblings, and culminated in an illustrious, 35-year career with the Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

During his tenure as Agricultural Commissioner, a position he held for nearly

seven years, Ortiz oversaw the county department tasked with monitoring, protecting, and promoting the multiple aspects of agriculture, the county’s No. 1 industry.

“It was an honor and an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to work with Carlos in his role as Ag Commissioner,” Farm Bureau President Scott Emanuelli said of Ortiz’s selection for the honor. “Carlos advocated for the entire Imperial Valley ag community driven by his passion for the industry and his faith. His impact will have benefits for years to come, making Carlos an ideal choice for the award.”

Farm Bureau Executive Director Rachel Magos added, “Mr. Ortiz has been a true advocate for Imperial Valley agriculture.”

She added, “He is an honest man with great integrity, and he was a true asset to the Farm Bureau and the ag industry during his time as Ag Commissioner.”

One of 10 children, Ortiz was just 3 or 4 years


Carlos Ortiz. - Photo provided by Carlos Ortiz

IID and Imperial Valley growers continue historic conservation in support of Colorado River

The Imperial Irrigation District and the growers of the Imperial Valley continue to take proactive steps to support the sustainability of the Colorado River, the only source of water for the Imperial Valley that is so vital to our community.

As part of a historic Lower Basin Plan between Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve 3 million acre-feet of water by 2026 to protect the Colorado River system from extended drought, in early December 2023 the IID Board of Directors unanimously approved the first of two System Conservation Implementation Agreements (SCIA) with the Bureau of Reclamation.

Under this landmark agreement, IID targeted 100,000 acre-feet of conserved water in 2023 to raise Lake Mead’s elevation behind Hoover Dam by up to 1.5 feet. All

of this conserved water comes from IID’s on-farm efficiency conservation program, exemplifying the outstanding efforts of Imperial Valley growers and signaling IID's commitment to the sustainability of the Colorado River.

“IID’s action demonstrates leadership on the Colorado River that will protect the Imperial Valley, California and the Colorado River Basin as a whole from record drought in the near-term and clear the way for focused discussions on operating the Colorado River sustainability in the longterm,” said IID Board Vice President JB Hamby, who serves as the Chairman of the Colorado River Board of California.

This responsive action is a component of the broader May 2023 Lower Basin Plan, which Reclamation subsequently identified as the proposed action for near-term operations of the river.

"This proactive step to support the river is vital for our community,” said IID Board President Alex Cardenas. “I want to thank and congratulate all parties involved for their collaborative efforts, which have

resulted in this agreement that benefits the Colorado River and Lake Mead, with additional certainty and federal funding for the Salton Sea.”

About half of the on-farm conservation, 50,000 acre-feet, initially designated for transfer to the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) will, instead, remain in Lake Mead as a result of an innovative threeparty agreement between IID, SDCWA and The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, benefiting the entire basin through collaborative partnerships and funded at current rates through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Further, as IID’s commitment extends beyond water conservation, the agreement also triggers the release of $70 million from an available $250 million in federal funding earmarked for environmental projects at the Salton Sea. (Collaborative efforts, as outlined in the historic agreement between Reclamation, the California Natural Resources Agency, Coachella Valley



Protecting the valley’s water rights and energy balancing authority while maintaining affordable rates and providing the highest level of customer service.

A century of service.


Imperial Irrigation District

Annual Inventory of Areas Receiving Water

Note: Crops are listed for the year in which they are predominately harvested.

GARDEN CROP ACRES 2022 2021 2020 ALOE VERA 78 55 72 ARTICHOKE 93 50 93 ARTICHOKE (SEED) 0 0 43 BEANS 0 51 0 BROCCOLI 8,722 8,109 8,507 BROCCOLI (SEED) 1,325 1,431 1,632 CABBAGE 1,476 1,942 1,709 CABBAGE, CHINESE 134 102 101 CARROTS 12,941 12,900 13,974 CARROTS (SEED) 73 88 5 CAULIFLOWER 2,466 3,938 3,714 CELERY 977 883 898 CILANTRO 444 762 720 CORIANDER SEED 733 692 255 CORN, SWEET 7,054 8,046 7,623 DILL 0 0 59 FENNEL 10 0 2 FLOWERS 136 133 185 FLOWER (SEED) 64 7 40 GARLIC 639 58 58 HERBS, MIXED 131 147 146 KALE 250 407 403 LETTUCE 5,558 5,975 5,352 LETTUCE, BUTTER 0 0 52 LETTUCE, GREEN 219 0 13 LETTUCE, MIXED 9,542 10,654 12,001 LETTUCE, RED 0 0 128 LETTUCE, ROMAINE 7,480 8,650 9,940 MELONS-CANTALOUPES, SPRING 3,211 4,382 3,562 MELONS-CRENSHAW, FALL 0 0 5 MELONS-CRENSHAW, SPRING 25 14 0 MELONS-HONEYDEW, SPRING 204 74 96 MELONS-MIXED, FALL 0 0 20 MELONS-MIXED, SPRING 839 836 544 MELONS-WATERMELONS 415 386 288 MUSTARD 449 384 169 MUSTARD (SEED) 243 65 65 OKRA 492 522 453 ONIONS (DEHY) 12,932 10,204 7,867 ONIONS (MARKET) 3,424 3,483 3,636 ONIONS (SEED) 446 639 544 PARSLEY 68 289 165 PEPPERS, HOT 22 0 0 POTATOES 1,820 1,782 1,584 RADISHES 48 0 11 RAPINI 1,386 1,651 1,525 ROCKETT 333 105 544 ROMANESCO 44 0 0 SESAME 36 5 25 SPINACH 6,436 6,104 5,038 SQUASH 139 93 18 SUNFLOWERS 0 38 590 SUNFLOWERS (SEED) 0 0 553 SWEET BASIL 189 94 182 SWISS CHARD 24 24 168 TOMATOES, FALL 148 0 0 TOMATOES, SPRING 0 291 0 VEGETABLES, MIXED 5,355 9,014 6,540 VEGETABLES, MIXED (SEED PRODUCTION) 30 0 30 TOTAL GARDEN CROP 99,303 105,559 101,947 FIELD CROP ACRES 2022 2021 2020 ALFALFA, FLAT 90,821 92,695 87,261 ALFALFA, ROW 28,409 30,178 32,348 ALFALFA (SEED) 15,537 24,532 19,380 BARLEY 2 0 3 BERMUDAGRASS 58,779 60,218 61,102 BERMUDAGRASS (SEED) 5,189 14,519 10,661 CORN, FIELD 5,598 5,391 3,920 CORN, SILAGE 107 112 0 COTTON 67 35 0 FLAX 86 65 94 GRASS, MIXED 590 1,187 1,125 HEMP 32 61 1,515 KENAF 0 24 0 KLEINGRASS 20,107 19,691 21,585 OATS 1,867 1,723 702 QUINOA 2 19 2 RAPESEED 73 167 177 RED BEETS 141 62 197 RYEGRASS 1,153 1,049 1,209 RYEGRASS (SEED) 62 62 0 SAFFLOWER 13 13 13 SESBANIA 295 0 118 SORGHUM GRAIN 38 51 38 SORGHUM SILAGE 331 45 24 SOYBEANS 144 0 0 SPIRULINA ALGAE 85 85 85 SUDANGRASS 46,735 39,117 42,284 SUDANGRASS (SEED) 153 289 262 SUGARBEETS 25,001 25,212 25,103 SUGARCANE 323 252 308 TEFF GRASS 416 130 102 TRITICALE GRAIN 74 10 0 WHEAT 38,536 16,599 10,357 TOTAL FIELD CROP 340,766 333,593 319,975 PERMANENT CROP ACRES 2022 2021 2020 ASPARAGUS 39 39 39 CITRUS-GRAPEFRUIT 642 641 641 CITRUS-LEMONS 4,919 4,672 4,257 CITRUS-LIMES 39 90 90 CITRUS-MIXED 940 1,099 1,408 CITRUS-ORANGES 298 230 285 CITRUS-TANGERINES 233 314 442 DATES 1,650 1,603 1,564 DUCK PONDS 10,057 9,888 9,823 EUCALYPTUS 6 7 7 FISH FARMS 485 485 485 FRUIT, MIXED 1 1 2 JUJUBE 169 163 153 MANGOS 34 36 40 NURSERY 137 137 119 RESEARCH FARMS 310 0 0 OLIVES 648 667 663 ORNAMENTAL TREES 47 67 108 PALMS 176 179 250 PASTURE, PERMANENT 276 295 298 SMALL ACREAGE 4,001 4,059 0 TOTAL PERMANENT CROP 25,107 24,672 20,674 TOTAL ACRES OF CROPS 465,176 463,824 442,596

Desert lettuce

Soil sensors, drip reduce water use

Desert lettuce growers may be able to save more than 10 inches of water by converting to shallow buried drip irrigation and following recommendations from the online CropManage tool.

Two years into a three-year study, University of California Cooperative Extension Irrigation and Water Management Advisor Ali Montazar said the two technologies paired together show promise to significantly reduce water and nitrogen use. The actual savings depend

on a number of factors, including lettuce variety, soil type, planting date, prior irrigation system, planting configuration, and bed width.

Preliminary results show that converting to drip does not significantly affect yield. If anything, Montazar said, drip produces higher quality lettuce by reducing disease pressure, since it doesn’t wet the leaf surface like sprinklers do.

Alex Jack, owner of Jack Bros., Inc., which farms near Brawley, is hosting two of Montazar’s on-farm romaine and iceberg lettuce trials.

A strong proponent of drip irrigation,

Jack said he began slowly converting fields from furrow or sprinkler to drip in the mid1970s. He relies on soil moisture sensors to tell him when to irrigate and to monitor for salt buildup in the soil. But Jack said they still won’t replace a shovel to check in-field moisture.

Although drip has helped him save about 4 inches of water per acre, Jack said the real benefit is his romaine yields have increased by about 50 percent. Much of this comes from changing to a highdensity production system with 80-inch


Long thread-like strands on tall plants growing on fields throughout Imperial County is an easy way to identify corn. Imperial County growers harvested 7,054 acres of sweet corn in 2022.







1/Misc. Seed and Nursery Products may include: Aloe Vera, Bean Dried, Broccoli Seed, Coriander Seed, Cut Flowers, Grass Seed, Mustard Seed, Palms, Sunflower Seed, Vegetable Seed, Vegetable Transplants. Totals do not add due to rounding.

CROP YEAR HARVESTED ACRES YIELD PER ACRE TOTAL UNITS UNIT VALUE PERUNIT GROSS VALUE Alfalfa Seed 2022 2,940 4.10 6,872 Ton $3,459.96 $23,775,000 Non-Certified 2022 9,070 845.85 7,671,814 Lbs $3.46 $26,564,000 2021 8,041 666.41 5,358,573 Lbs $2.66 $14,267,000 Certified 2022 14,908 848.21 12,645,179 Lbs $4.14 $52,289,000 2021 16,491 877.29 14,467,319 Lbs $3.04 $43,919,000 $38,743,000 Total Alfalfa Seed 2022 23,978 847.32 20,316,993 Lbs $3.88 $78,853,000 2021 24,532 808.16 19,825,891 Lbs $2.93 $58,186,000 Bermuda Grass Seed 2021 444 9.82 4,359 Ton $483.58 $2,108,000 Non-Certified 2022 11,342 574.31 6,513,852 Lbs $4.82 $31,409,000 2021 10,255 563.75 5,781,256 Lbs $2.50 $14,453,000 Certified 2022 3,928 569.23 2,235,944 Lbs $5.64 $12,608,000 2021 4,264 641.67 2,736,067 Lbs $4.75 $12,996,000 Total Bermuda Grass Seed 2022 15,270 573.01 8,749,797 Lbs $5.03 $44,017,000 2021 14,519 586.63 8,517,323 Lbs $3.22 $27,449,000 Onion Seed 2022 446 413.30 184,334 Lbs $8.00 $1,475,000 2021 639 413.30 264,101 Lbs $5.63 $1,486,000 Misc. Seed Crops & Nursery Products1/ Misc. Seed 2022 9,684 $23,272,000 2021 14,737 $14,801,000 Misc. Nursery Products 2022 312 $6,233,000 2021 371 $15,728,000 TOTAL 2022 49,690 VALUE $153,850,000 TOTAL 2021 54,798 VALUE $117,650,000 $477,421,000 $101,542,000 $269,735,000 $92,982,000 $216,536,000 $90,497,000 $141,110,000 $78,853,000 $69,004,000 $65,807,000
1 Cattle
5 Bermuda Grass Hay
2 Alfalfa
6 Broccoli
3 Head Lettuce 10 7 Spinach
4 Leaf Lettuce 12 8 Alfalfa Seed

popular addition to salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. Additionally, alfalfa supplements, available in various forms such as capsules and powdered extracts, provide a convenient means of accessing its nutritional bounty. These supplements are often touted for their potential to support digestive health, lower cholesterol levels, and enhance overall well-being, catering to health-conscious consumers seeking natural, plant-based remedies.

Beyond its role in agriculture and human nutrition, alfalfa finds applications in various industrial sectors. Alfalfa's deeprooted nature and ability to fix nitrogen make it a valuable component of soil improvement practices, contributing to enhanced soil fertility, water retention, and carbon sequestration. Furthermore, alfalfa's cellulose-rich biomass holds promise as a

feedstock for biofuel production, offering a renewable alternative to fossil fuels and contributing to efforts aimed at mitigating climate change. Additionally, alfalfa's phytochemical composition renders it a sought-after ingredient in skincare and cosmetic formulations, where its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are harnessed to promote skin health and vitality.

The cultivation and utilization of alfalfa exemplify principles of sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. As a nitrogen-fixing legume, alfalfa enhances soil fertility and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers. Furthermore, alfalfa is often included in crop rotation systems to improve soil health and break pest and disease cycles. Its deep roots help break up compacted soil, improve soil structure, and


prevent erosion.

As we continue to navigate the complexities of modern agriculture and strive to promote human health and environmental sustainability, the significance of alfalfa becomes increasingly evident. From its beginnings as a forage crop to its diversified end uses in human nutrition and beyond, alfalfa embodies resilience, versatility, and nutritional excellence.

By harnessing the potential of alfalfa in both agriculture and human health, we can cultivate a more sustainable future for generations to come. Whether it's nourishing livestock, enriching soils, or supporting human well-being, alfalfa stands as a testament to the enduring partnership between nature and humanity, rooted in the soil and reaching for the sky. n

1/Misc. Field Crops may include: Barley, Field Corn, Flax, Mixed Grasses, Oats, Rye Grass, Safflower, Sorghum Grain, Sorghum Silage, Sugar Beet Pulp, Sugar Beet Molasses, Sugarcane.

2/Cotton Bales = 500 Pounds.

3/Pastured Crops are pastured once, the acreage is not included in the total, and may include: Alfalfa, Bermuda Grass Hay, Permanent Pasture.

* Corrected figure for 2021 Misc. Field Crops (previously reported as $25,034,000).

Totals do not add due to rounding.

CROP YEAR HARVESTED ACRES YIELD PER ACRE TOTAL UNITS UNIT VALUE PER UNIT GROSS VALUE Alfalfa Hay 2022 147,569 5.62 829,742 Ton $325.08 $269,735,000 2021 150,984 8.17 1,234,043 Ton $203.95 $251,683,000 Bermuda Grass Hay 2022 64,068 6 379,901 Ton $267 $101,542,000 2021 74,892 8.49 635,724 Ton $156.25 $99,329,000 Cotton (Lint)2/ 2022 2,263 4.1 9,282 Bale $649.47 $6,028,000 2021 2,829 2.9 8,217 Bale $497.22 $4,085,000 Cotton (Seed) 2022 3,089 Ton $528.50 $1,632,000 2021 2,794 Ton $421.25 $1,177,000 Klein Grass Hay 2022 20,107 9.82 197,390 Ton $241.96 $47,760,000 2021 19,691 8.5 167,374 Ton $144.86 $24,246,000 Pastured Crops 3/ 2022 44,002 Acre $35.09 $1,544,000 2021 28,826 Acre $38.82 $1,119,000 Straw (Baled) 2022 173,852 Ton $39.43 $6,855,000 2021 148,189 Ton $37.00 $5,482,000 Sudan Grass Hay 2022 49,164 4.73 232,423 Ton $271.58 $63,121,000 2021 43,764 3.93 172,047 Ton $192.50 $33,119,000 Sugar Beets 2022 23,736 45.4 1,077,559 Ton $50.05 $53,932,000 2021 23,376 46.61 1,089,568 Ton $48.04 $52,343,000 Wheat 2022 48,422 3.6 174,243 Ton $377.68 $65,807,000 2021 23,196 3.77 87,558 Ton $284.21 $24,885,000 Misc. Field Crops1/ 2022 10,758 $22,139,000 2021 9,821 * $19,158,000 TOTAL 2022 ACRES 366,087 VALUE $640,095,000 TOTAL 2021 ACRES 348,553 VALUE $516,626,000

Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office

Ag Commissioner on alert for possible fruit flies

Fruit flies gained a foothold throughout California in 2023, resulting in seven quarantine areas and approximately 950 detections of adult flies. For context, in a normal year the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), in cooperation with County Agricultural Commissioners, detects an average of 64 adult fruit flies statewide. The nearly 15-fold increase in 2023 has resulted in emergency eradication efforts impacting tens of thousands of residents and businesses in the quarantine areas.

Imperial County has been lucky to remain free from exotic fruit flies, but the looming threat of an infestation spreading into our county remains. Each year, we maintain a network of nearly 600 fruit fly traps placed throughout the county in both residential and commercial settings. Our staff routinely visit, service, and relocate these traps. We serviced nearly 25,000 fruit fly traps in 2023.

Currently, there are multiple species of fruit flies and multiple areas of the state with introductions, which complicates response efforts.

There is a massive quarantine for Oriental fruit fly, encompassing 554 square miles of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. This is the largest quarantine area in state history. In addition to that area, there are six additional quarantine areas:

 Oriental fruit fly in part of Contra Costa County, part of Sacramento County, and part of Santa Clara County

 Mediterranean fruit fly (aka Medfly) in part of Los Angeles County

 Tau fruit fly in part of Los Angeles County

 Queensland fruit fly in part of Los Angeles and Ventura counties

The Medfly infestation in Los Angeles County is significant because this area encompasses the Los Angeles produce market, a major international terminal and the largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market in the state. Any grower or handler of host commodities are


Fruit fly detections in California were at record highs in 2023. Invasive pests often move with travelers and e-commerce on plant materials. Please help prevent quarantines in Imperial County that could hurt agricultural and backyard fruit and vegetable production. Please don’t inadvertently spread pests, and feel free to reach out to our office with any questions. We’re here to help.

Medfly - Photos by CDFA

his wife and three children, the fifth generation of the family.

Family friend and farmer Ed McGrew of El Centro said it is unique to see a company reach a hundred-year milestone, and he praised the Vessey family for their accomplishment.

“They have succeeded through various hardships through the years,” McGrew said “The Valley is one of the last pioneering places to have been established and the Vesseys have been a part of it.”

Today, Vessey & Co. grows nearly 40 different kinds of vegetables across 10,000 acres, all within the Holtville area, with the company’s exports serving the country. The company operates as a joint venture, focusing on the growing and marketing of farming. It packs and ships its own red and green cabbage. For other crops, it partners with firms that handle the packing and shipping.

For Jack, driving across his fields is a reminder of the earlier generations who led the way for the company to become what

it is today.

It began with his great-grandparents, Elton and Maude Vessey, who moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles prior to 1923 and started a small produce wholesale company in the downtown area until Elton decided he wanted to start growing his own crops.

That led Elton and his wife to move to the Imperial Valley in 1923. Here they began to grow lettuce and created what would be Vessey & Co. By the 1930s, they expanded the operation to include Hollister and the Salinas Valley. Under Elton, the company gained recognition within the lettuce industry for its innovative techniques to both grow and rapidly transport crops.

Their son, Jackson Vessey, eventually took over the operation, and continued to expand the company. Under his leadership, lettuce harvesting and packing extended to six different areas of California, including the Imperial Valley. Jackson was also an early pioneer in the fresh garlic industry, with garlic packing operations in Hollister, San Juan Bautista, and El Centro, as well as in Queretaro and Mexicali Valley, Mexico.

Jackson had two sons, Phillip and Jon. As the older son, Philip was to take over the Imperial Valley operation. However, he died in a traffic accident in the Valley in 1965. That meant the Valley operation fell to Jon, who would go on to expand the family company to grow 25 different crops. Jon also had the company focus on its efforts as a grower, shifting most of the packing and shipping duties to partners.

Jack Vessey remembers how hard his father worked and the constant challenges and worries his father faced.

“I remember when I was a child and there were thunderstorms, and I would go to my parents’ bed when I was scared. My mother was there, but my father would be outside watching over the ranch, hoping the storm didn’t hit his fields.”

He also remembers the good times he spent in the fields with his father.

“Certain memories always pop into my mind,” he said. “The


Fruit & Nut Crops may include: Grape, Mango, Sweet Limes, Tangelos, Tangerines. * 2022 Tangerines were included in Misc. Citrus, Fruit & Nut Crops. Totals do not add due to rounding.
CROP YEAR HARVESTED ACRES YIELD PER ACRE TOTAL UNITS UNIT VALUE PER UNIT GROSS VALUE Dates 2022 2,940 4.10 6,872 Ton $3,459.96 $23,775,000 2021 3,118 4.00 12,463 Ton $2,099.52 $26,166,000 Grapefruit 2022 642 15.75 10,115 Ton $685.02 $6,929,000 2021 641 15.04 9,640 Ton $789.58 $7,612,000 Lemons 2022 4,919 12.52 61,570 Ton $629.26 $38,743,000 2021 4,701 11.63 54,682 Ton $564.10 $30,846,000 Tangerines 2022 * * * * * * 2021 444 9.82 4,359 Ton $483.58 $2,108,000 Misc. Citrus, Fruit & Nut Crops1/ 2022 611 $7,994,000 2021 1,751 $6,724,000 Citrus by-Products 2022 $452,000 2021 $2,117,000 TOTAL 2022 ACRES 9,112 VALUE $77,893,000 TOTAL 2021 ACRES 10,655 VALUE $75,573,000
In this photograph from the mid-2000s, Jack Vessey (left) is pictured with his father, the late Jon Vessey, in a Vessey family spinach field. - Photo courtesy of Vessey & Co.

Cattle was Imperial County’s top valued commodity in 2022. Cattle, however, is just one of the multitude of commodities that make up the Lvestock Category. In addition to cattle, the category includes such miscellaneous livestock as sheep and goats.

- Photos by Joselito N. Villaro and Peggy Dale

VALLEY AGRIBUSINESS & DESERT GROWING DIGEST 27 1/Misc. Livestock may include: Calves, Replacement Cattle, Dairy Animals, Milk, Manure/Compost, Mixed Cattle, Sheep, Wool, Wagyu Cattle. *California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta Show Animal sales not reported for 2021. Cwt = 100 Pounds. Totals do not add due to rounding.
PRODUCTS COMMODITY YEAR HEAD UNIT GAIN TOTAL GAIN UNIT VALUE PER UNIT GROSS VALUE Cattle (Feedlot) 2022 391,427 10.35 4,051,270 Cwt $117.84 $477,421,000 2021 382,590 10.34 3,956,208 Cwt $117.38 $464,397,000 Aquatic Products (Fish & Algae) 2022 $18,462,000 2021 $22,172,000 Misc. Livestock 1/ * 2022 $120,816,000 2021 $40,921,000 TOTAL 2022 $616,699,000 TOTAL 2021 $527,490,000

Two locations serve local customers

KC Welding and Rentals first opened its doors to serve the people of the Imperial Valley in 1954. Founder Casey Mostrong brought his mechanical skills and ingenuity to the Imperial Valley and opened up shop on Fourth Street, laying the foundation for what is now KC Welding and Rentals.

KC Welding and Rentals later relocated to its current main location at 1549 Dogwood Road, El Centro, in 1963. KC was founded with the vision of producing and supplying top quality agricultural tools and equipment. Casey Mostrong invented and patented various original agricultural tools including vegetable planters, tillage equipment, sled shapes, and cultivators, among other farming products. The company’s agricultural products are a key component in the process that puts fresh, American-grown produce on dinner tables across the nation. It

offers equipment rentals for large-scale commercial applications and small-scale homeowner needs, as well as being an extensive welding and fabrication shop that manufactures custom and original agricultural implements and undertakes any custom fabrication jobs customers

bring in.

KC stocks a wide variety of products in its industrial/agricultural parts supply store. As a provider for industrial applications it also carries and provides commercialgrade steel. The retail store carries popular brand names like Carhartt, Yeti, Traeger, and more.

In 2015, KC expanded, opening a second location in Brawley. A small-scale version of the main facility in El Centro, the Brawley location offers rentals, a retail store, and fabrication services. n

The KC Welding team at its main location on Dogwood Road, El Centro. - Photos Courtesy of KC Welding

way I learned to throw a ball was by playing catch with a head of lettuce in the fields with my father.”

As Jack grew into a teen, despite his father’s cautions, he decided he wanted to continue farming. He attended California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo to study agricultural business and came home to join the family company.

“I embrace the challenges that he had,” Jack said, such as transporting harvested crops, extreme weather, and fluctuating costs that made farming difficult then and still today. “I like those challenges. Every day is different. Every challenge is different.”

In 2010, the future of the farming operation shifted. The entire operation moved to the Imperial Valley, which meant no longer growing elsewhere. Now, the family focused on expanding the variety of its vegetable crops.

Eventually, the management of Vessey & Co. transitioned to Jack shortly before his father’s passing in 2014. Since then, he’s taken everything he learned from his father and built on those lessons.

“Making a crop isn’t easy, and he always cared about the people on the ranch who made it possible day after day to grow the best crops we could,” Jack said. “There’s a lot of people depending on us to survive and have a good life. I feel a big responsibility for that.”

Yet Jack said financial issues and shifting markets have forced changes in the operation.

“We’ve really gotten a lot more conservative in what we do,” he said. “Almost everything we grow has a home (a buyer). We just have to make sure we do a good job of growing it. The risk and reward is so low now in farming that you cannot go out and gamble the way they used to.”

In the past it was possible to grow a crop and then find a market for it. Jack said, “They would cross their fingers and hope someone wanted it, so the way we do things now is a monumental shift.”

While Jack may operate the company differently, what hasn’t changed from one generation to the next is the sense of leadership, not only in guiding the company, but serving as a leader in the farming community.

Jack is a third-generation board member of the Western Growers Association, an advocacy organization founded in 1926 to support produce growers in California, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. He said it means a great deal to him to serve on the same board as his father and grandfather. Jack also served as president of the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association (IVVGA) and continues to serve on that board. He said the importance of serving was ingrained in him by his father.

“It was watching him do what he did,” Jack said. “He’d always been in leadership roles. He never put his head in the sand when it

came to working on tough issues. He was always one to work with his fellow growers.”

Jack recalled one conversation with his father that meant a lot to him. For a school project, he once asked his father whom he most admired. His father answered, Cesar Chavez, the leader of the United Farm Workers, which led the lettuce strike of 1979 against Valley lettuce growers. Jack said his father told him that even though they were on different sides of the labor issue, they could come together and talk.

“That conversation still stands out to me today as the kind of man my father was,” Jack said, pointing out that he learned from his father the importance of coming together to resolve issues.

As Vessey & Co. celebrates its centennial, Jack said he looks forward to the future of the company and Valley agriculture. At the same time he knows tough issues lie ahead, particularly as the Colorado River, the Valley’s sole source of water, faces uncertainty caused by drought.

He said it is important for everyone outside the Valley to know “we are using every drop wisely and that we are using every drop to feed the nation.”

As for the fifth generation of the family, they already are showing interest in the farm. Just as Jack worked with his father in his youth, Jack’s son, Blaze, 17, a high school senior, spends his free time driving a tractor and water truck on the farm. Jack’s daughters, Hazel, 12, and Fiona, 10, look forward to weekend drives with their father to survey the fields.

However, Jack said, following his father’s example about career choice advice, he tells his children they can do whatever they want with their lives as long as they have a passion for it. n


Rockwood Ag Services

Rockwood Ag Services, formerly known as Rockwood Chemical Company, was established in 1960 as a leading independent supplier of crop protection products in the Imperial Valley. The new name better represents the expansion of service the firm offers to Imperial Valley growers and to the whole Southwest desert growing market.

From its inception, Rockwood, a locally owned corporation, has built strong and long-lasting relationships with the growers and the chemical manufacturers that service them. In 2022, Rockwood Ag Services merged with Imperial Grain Growers, a co-op founded in 1922 that maintained 100 years of continuous service in the Valley.

With the merger, Rockwood adds fertilizer sales to the suite of services it offers Valley growers. This addition increases the value and provides an even broader agronomic approach to the services it offers growers – and it provided a good reason to change our name to Rockwood Ag Services.

Rockwood Ag Services provides up-to-date crop consulting with knowledgeable licensed pest control advisors and certified crop advisors. Our team maintains close relationships with manufacturers, universities, private researchers and regulatory agencies to access current information on crop protection methods.

competitive advantage in the retail market.

And we hope you will check out our website, www. The website provides a chance for you to meet our team, learn more about our services and peruse a whole host of resources and links to connect you to helpful information.

Our PCAs are knowledgeable about farming both conventional and organic crops with sustainable practices. And our crop advisors help create crop nutrition programs for your field, including plant nutrition to help your fields thrive.

Rockwood Ag Services is an owner-member of Integrated Agribusiness Professionals, which is made up of more than 30 independent companies nationally and more recently it joined the CNI group of companies. These affiliations help us maintain a

Rockwood Ag Services works hard to meet the needs of the growers. The firm also is proud to be part of and support the community of Imperial County. That is why you will find us in the stands at the Imperial Valley Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta’s annual livestock auction supporting local 4H and Future Farmers of America participants. Rockwood Ag Services awards two scholarships to county students pursuing a career in agriculture.

Our staff can also be found participating in California Association of Pest Control Advisors, California Weed Science Society, Rotary and sponsoring local events around the Imperial Valley.

Let Rockwood Ag Services provide all your pesticide, herbicide, fungicide and now, fertilizer needs in the Imperial Valley. n


Rockwood AG Services Company is a leading independent supplier of crop protection and crop nutrition products in Imperial Valley, providing up-to-date crop consulting with knowledgeable licensed pest control advisors and certified crop advisors.

 Rockwood AG Services, formerly known as Rockwood Chemical & Imperial Grain growers, has been serving Imperial Valley since 1922

 Licensed Pest Control Advisors and Certified Crop Advisors

 Owner-member of Independent Agribusiness Professionals

 Crop nutritional programs custom tailored to your crop

 Specializing in the right blends of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers

 Knowledgeable licensed pest control advisors

 All fertilizer product lines and blends, conventional and organic

OVER 100
47 West Rutherford Road, Brawley, CA • (760) 344-0916 WWW.ROCKWOODAGSERVICES.COM

brands that use jalapeños did not experience the same challenges.

A key reason for Huy Fong’s shortage, growers and pepper experts said, was that the company evidently failed to rebuild a supply network with enough farmers. For a pepper processor, “that is just absolutely critical,” said Stephanie Walker, co-director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University.

Jalapeños are difficult to grow because of their long growing season—typically about 80 days for transplanted crops. “When they’re

in the ground longer, they’re going to be exposed to more risks,” such as pests, diseases and extreme weather, Walker said.

Red jalapeños, which are picked after the pepper turns from green to red—with a growing season of about 120 days—and must then be harvested within a short window, can be especially challenging.

“We learned over 28 years how to grow and harvest jalapeños,” Underwood said. At its peak, he grew 2,000 acres of jalapeños for Huy Fong, planting multiple crops each year. The farm even designed its own mechanical harvester and hauled the peppers from the field to Huy Fong’s facilities.

“What we did for them was rather complicated,” said Underwood, whose company still grows jalapeños and makes its own brand of Sriracha sauce.

Before Huy Fong’s inventory dried up, its Sriracha was the top-selling hot sauce in 31 states, according to consumer data from Instacart. Since then, Huy Fong lost market share as competitors and newcomers filled the void. A Huy Fong representative said no one from the company was available to comment.

To get back in business, Huy Fong needed peppers. But “finding really good pepper growers is challenging,” Walker said. In addition to pest and weather risks, labor costs caused many U.S. growers to abandon the

crop. Where could Huy Fong go?

According to California pepper growers, last summer, a man described variously as “a broker,” “a gentleman” and “a guy in Coachella” sounded out farmers to grow large amounts of red jalapeños for an undisclosed processor.

“He was trying to put together a very quick, very large jalapeño program,” said Alex Jack of Jack Brothers, Inc., who farms in the Imperial Valley and received a call from the man in July.

When he got the call, the jalapeño seedlings were already growing in a greenhouse in Northern California, Jack said. The broker needed farmers to sign contracts and plant the peppers within a few weeks before they were too late to transplant.

It was an unusual approach. “Unless they have a grower or growers already lined up,” Walker said, “I’d consider it very risky to start a large number of transplants. My guess is that they were quite sure that they’d be able to get growers on board.”

It was mid-July, and the man wanted to know if Jack could plant 500 acres, using drip irrigation, by Aug. 15.

“They were doing things unconventionally,” Jack said, possibly “because they were in a predicament where they had to just get things rolling and hope it all worked out.”

The Jack family has farmed in the Imperial Valley for more than a century, and Jack has

Red jalapeños in an Imperial Valley field. - Photo provided by IID

farmed there since 1989, but he had never grown jalapeños. Planting so many so fast “would be like a new NFL franchise winning the Super Bowl in its first season,” Jack said. “It’s crazy.”

To start with, at the height of the Imperial Valley’s sweltering summer, much of his team was away on vacation.

Jack called up his ranch manager and irrigation specialists, and hired more workers through a farm labor contractor. “We brought everyone back and we got it all planted,” he said. “It was a Herculean effort.”

Setting up the irrigation system in time was only possible, Jack added, with knowledge his family gained through generations of farming. “It’s a lot of years of experience from Jack Brothers doing drip irrigation that helped us put this whole program together,” he said.

High-value crops such as chili peppers are almost always grown on drip irrigation, Jack said, because the system, while expensive, enables farmers to “fine-tune the growing of the crop” by administering precise amounts of


The ruff ly leaves of this squat plant identify it as kale, a member of the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. In 2022, Imperial County growers grew 250 acres of kale.

water and fertilizer.

The jalapeños benefited from underground piping for drip irrigation Jack already had on some of his fields. “We did about half the jalapeños on our permanent drip field, and we did half on portable systems,” he said. He estimated it took 25 people working full time for a month to plant the crop, finishing in late September.

Then came a massive storm from the Gulf of Mexico, followed by multiple days of tripledigit heat. “I thought we were in trouble, but the peppers came through with flying colors,” Jack said.

A fleet of mechanical harvesters, purchased by the client for this year’s crop, began harvesting the jalapeños just after Christmas. “Considering everything we went through and how little time we had to plan for it, the crop looks really good,” Jack said.

Growing the crop successfully has made him the confidential processor’s largest supplier, he said. With harvest wrapping up, Jack is preparing to plant 210 acres of jalapeños for the

spring season. They should be ready to harvest in June.

Beyond that, Jack isn’t sure what the future holds. He does not have a long-term contract to continue growing peppers.

In November, Huy Fong said it had resumed production, noting in a statement, “We continue to have a limited supply that continues to affect product availability.”

In recent weeks, consumers began reporting lower prices for Sriracha and wider availability. Jack said he still doesn’t know with certainty where all his red jalapeños are going, though growers familiar with the scale and urgency of the program said it may be no great mystery.

(Caleb Hampton is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at champton@cfbf. com.) n

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2024, issue of Ag Alert, the weekly newspaper for California agriculture produced by the California Farm Bureau Federation. Reprinted with permission.


to fruition throughout his life as he followed the research and experimentation that have helped make Rubin Seeds, LLC, and its sister company, Imperial Valley Research Co., LLC, what they are today. Rubin founded Rubin Seeds in 2006 with his son, Kurt, and in 2014 formed Imperial Valley Research Co. with his daughter, Kaylin.

Rubin has seen many challenges since returning to the Imperial Valley, among them the second 160-acre limitation lawsuit filed by Dr. Ben Yellen against the Imperial Irrigation District that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the IID in 1980.

“That was the first major challenge that I had a very minimal part in,” he said, adding that “160 acres isn’t large enough” for farmers.

An ongoing challenge is the Valley’s summertime heat, but those searing temperatures also have provided opportunity, especially when it comes to the emergence of Bermudagrass as a multimillion-dollar crop for the Valley.

“The newest crop has made a difference,” said Rubin, who has been involved in

Bermudagrass production since 1982. The heat-resistant crop remains a major part of his business.

“We are helping growers with new varieties and new opportunities, where we market Bermudagrass around the world. … It grows on both sides of the Equator,” he said.

Among the biggest changes he has seen is the return of young people from farming families, who after graduating college have gone to work for others and worked their way up to become farmers on their own.

Those younger farmers likely will face the same struggles endured by their predecessors: wrangling over water, politics, and the crucial role agriculture plays in the lives and livelihoods of those who live in the United States.

“In the U.S., political power doesn’t always recognize the good agriculture does for the country. We’re part of the fabric of the country, but there are less of us,” he said. “We’ve lost contact. We need to work hard on reestablishing that contact and helping people learn where their food comes from, and how important it is to have production

Breeding Expertise

available locally to feed their families.”

Those who know Rubin say he does what he believes are the right things to do, not for glory or any honors, but to do his share in helping others wherever he can.

“He is always willing to help and pours so much of his time and heart into everything he does. He is a true pillar of the agricultural industry and our community,” said Rachel Magos, Farm Bureau executive director, who has worked closely with Rubin in his position as Farm Bureau treasurer. She describes him as “One of the most generous individuals I know. He has always supported me in my role, and I appreciate the wisdom he shares.”

Rubin said he and his wife, Linda, want to set good examples on what community means, especially for the couple’s 10 grandchildren being raised nearby.

As Rubin reflected on his life in the Imperial Valley, “God’s been good to me,” he said. “In a big city, you’re one in a million. In the Imperial Valley, you can do things that have a positive effect in our community.” n

Breeding Confidence © 2024 Betaseed

old when his father relocated the family from Moroleón, Mexico, to Oxnard as part of the Bracero program, all having been sponsored by his father’s boss.

Ortiz returned to Mexico to earn his bachelor’s degree in agronomy (Ingeniero Agrónomo en Producción) from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterey Unidad Querétaro. In 1983, as he was completing his thesis for his degree -- at the time a common practice for bachelor’s degrees, he was asked to consider applying to a joint U.S.-Mexico Mediterranean fruit fly project in Chiapas, Mexico.

After being interviewed, he was offered the job and accepted. “Looking back, it was a good decision,” he said. “It was an outstanding job.”

That job led to a boll weevil eradication project in Mexicali, and then to job opportunities in 1988 with the California Department of Food and Agriculture in both San Diego and the Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office in El Centro. Upon consulting his wife, Irma, Ortiz accepted the Agricultural Biologist 1 position with Imperial County because, he said, “(Imperial County) reminded me of Oxnard, where you know your neighbors and your son’s friends."

The rest, as they say, is history. He moved up the proverbial ladder, completing necessary licenses in each position, until becoming a

deputy agricultural commissioner under then-Agricultural Commissioner Steve Birdsall. He was appointed assistant agricultural commissioner in April 2016 by Birdsall’s successor, Connie Valenzuela. In December 2016, he became Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures for Imperial County.

“Through his experience and institutional knowledge, Carlos took his role as Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer to the highest level,” said Jolene Dessert, Ortiz’s successor as Agricultural Commissioner. “He made himself available certainly as a mentor to me and to all staff for their personal development regarding anything related to their jobs and the mandated work we do. He acted as a strong advocate for educating staff and industry and was an active member of the statewide agricultural commissioner’s association where policies are set.”

Ortiz built upon the foundation laid by his predecessors. Recruitment and training processes are essential, he said, and he found reward in sharing his experiences and knowledge with staff that helps them further their own careers.

Additionally, “Being able to reach the highest position within the department helps you work with other department heads, work with the Board of Supervisors, work at a different level

with the California Department of Food and Ag, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the University of California Cooperative Extension, Farm Bureau, (Imperial Valley) Vegetable Growers,” he said. “It’s just opportunity after opportunity to do good things obviously for industry, but also for your staff and for the community.”

Magos noted that collaborative nature in her comments, describing Ortiz as “always fair and willing to educate those he encountered. His ability to create relationships and maintain open communication was invaluable.”

Asked about what he sees as his greatest successes, Ortiz pointed to the “strong foundation” for pesticide use enforcement that he had under former Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Cliff Gruenberg. “He was an excellent boss. He was soft-spoken, intelligent, he knew the regulations well, and what it took to be a good boss.”

As for the future of agriculture, Ortiz said, “I still see Imperial County as one of most important agricultural counties in the State of California, where we have a good group of growers, the University of California, a system in place and new technology that emerges all the time. We are a major factor in providing healthy, nutritious food to the people of the United States and to the world.” n

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This automated delivery gate is the heading for the Beech Canal to the Central Main Canal Intertie. These projects conserve unused operational discharge, diverting this water to another canal for use downstream, saving 600 acre-feet of water annually. - Photo provided by IID

Water District and IID in December 2022, designated $250 million in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act for state projects contributing to the Salton Sea's restoration).

“A year ago this month, the Colorado River system was facing near-term collapse,” said Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary, following IID’s December 2023 action to approve the SCIA. “Today, the system is stabilized for the coming years thanks to IID and other water agencies across California and the Southwest stepping up to conserve water. Now, as these near-term conservation programs stabilize Lake Mead and the whole Colorado River system, water agencies across the region are working together to chart a sustainable future for the Basin.”

Coordination of conservation efforts beyond 2023 continues, with IID targeting


About half the lateral headings in the IID service area are fitted with an automated gate that reads hydraulic conditions, automatically adjusting so that the gate holds a consistent water delivery. They allow delivery adjustments to be made remotely, accommodating faster operational changes. One of four components of the discharge reduction program, this helps conserve roughly 27,000 acre-feet a year.

250,000 acre-feet each year for 20242026, on top of its existing conservation obligations of about 500,000 acrefeet a year. The district has initiated an environmental compliance process for the proposed conservation efforts and is working with agricultural stakeholders and Reclamation to finalize new conservation programs to generate this volume.

About IID and Farming in the Imperial Valley:

 IID holds some of the most senior and legally protected water rights on the Colorado River and annually, prior to passage of the SCIA, conserves approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water under the Quantification Settlement Agreement, the nation's largest ag-to-urban water conservation

and transfer pact.

 IID has conserved over 7.7 million acre-feet of water since 2003, with 1.5 million generated through the On-Farm Efficiency Conservation Program since 2013.

 Imperial Valley farmers and IID continue to ramp up water conservation efforts annually, utilizing advanced irrigation technologies and sustainable farming practices, including the installation and use of sprinklers, drip systems, field reconfiguration and precision landleveling, tailwater return systems, and other field-level conservation measures.

 Imperial Valley remains one of California's and the Colorado River Basin’s top agricultural producers, with one in every six jobs directly related to agriculture, the backbone of the local economy. n

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beds and six crop rows compared to his earlier 40-inch beds with two rows.

Jack said drip has also allowed him to reduce nitrogen use by about 25 percent. He said there may be additional savings that could come from the trial results. He volunteered to host an on-farm trial because he wants to continually learn.

“No one else really in the desert is doing what we’re doing,” Jack said. “There are a few guys who are trying drip now, but we’re quite a way ahead.”

What he liked about working with Montazar was the open communication. “He’s learning as much from us as we’re learning from him — it’s been a great partnership,” Jack said.

Montazar has a field trial at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center near Holtville where he is comparing iceberg lettuce planted on 40- and 80-inch beds. In the narrower beds, he has two rows of lettuce with one drip tape running down the middle buried about 1.5 inches below the surface.

In the wider beds, he has six rows of lettuce and three buried drip tapes, each running between two lettuce rows.

Based on recommendations from CropManage, UC’s web-based irrigation and fertilizer decision support tool, he is applying 100 percent irrigation to one set of plots and 150 percent to another set.


A total of 169 acres of jujube trees grew in Imperial County in 2022. The small tree, native to China, produces small fruit that looks like grapes when green. The fruit darkens and becomes sweet when ripe. Sometimes called Chinese dates, the fruit is popular in oriental markets.

As part of the trial, Montazar is comparing nitrogen, applying what CropManage recommends to some plots, 25 percent less to other plots and 25 percent more to others.

The online tool draws from local weather conditions, planting date, plant size, crop density, canopy size, and soil type to develop irrigation and nitrogen recommendations.

The goal is to validate CropManage use for desert production, considering the differences in the Salinas Valley and elsewhere.

“We’re trying to adapt CropManage for desert lettuce,” Montazar said. “There are differences that may impact the results including canopy development, soil type, water quality and management, and of course, the desert environment.”

In addition to the research station trial, he has two field trials with Imperial Valley grower-cooperators, including Jack, and two with Coachella Valley cooperators. The growers have leaf, iceberg, or romaine lettuce, which have different water and nitrogen requirements under different circumstances.

Soil types in these two areas differ significantly, with the Coachella Valley having sandier soils and Imperial having heavier soils with more clay. As a result, Coachella lettuce growers tend to favor 40-

inch beds, while Imperial Valley growers prefer 80-inch beds.

Each trial compares the grower’s standard practices with recommendations from CropManage.

An increasing number of desert growers have begun using drip once the crop is growing, but they still rely on sprinkler irrigation to germinate planted seed. Montazar said preliminary data shows drip can be used to irrigate the crop from germination through harvest in the Imperial Valley without negative effects, including salinity buildup.

With Coachella’s sandy soils, he said growers are reluctant to use drip to germinate seed because it’s too risky.

Preliminary results also show potential water savings from 0.5 to 0.9 acre-feet per acre without yield reductions. At the same time, Montazar said, he has seen a potential for significant nitrogen savings, particularly on sandy soils.

In one Coachella grower’s field, he said they saw nearly 180 percent savings, “which means for growers with sandy soils, it’s really important to take under consideration these two tools. It has real promise for those growers.”

In fields with heavier soils, he said the potential water and nitrogen savings aren’t as high as sandy soils, partly because growers already apply less water and


nitrogen particularly when they convert conventional irrigation practice to drip irrigation. Nevertheless, Montazar said a potential water savings of 6 acre-inches and 15 percent to 25 percent nitrogen application is still a considerable benefit.

As part of the trial, he plans to conduct an economic analysis. For growers who have permanent, centralized pumping and

drip systems, Montazar said he believes drip could offer an economic advantage. For growers who have portable pumps, filtration and drip systems, he said additional data is needed before he analyzes the economics.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Program is funding the project.

(Vicky Boyd is a reporter based in Modesto. She may be contacted at n

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2024, issue of Ag Alert, the weekly newspaper for California agriculture produced by the California Farm Bureau Federation. Reprinted with permission.



“Farmers always want to buy more fertile land and be more productive. That is one of the reasons they came to the Imperial Valley – the lure and opportunity to sell their land in Corona and buy more acreage of fertile farmland,” Pangle said.

“Dad always said, his grandfather took really sandy hills and turned them into a productive farm.” Pangle said. “But coming here was probably more than they ever anticipated. They probably never realized how tough the summers would be.”

In those early years, they started with a dairy and cattle operation and growing forage, vegetable crops and citrus. They relied on up to 100 horses to work the land. They even shared their work horses with other farmers, Pangle said.

Horses and mules continued to be critical to farming even as tractors were introduced in the region around the 1920s. Pangle remembers stories of the first tractor her grandfather purchased — a Holt Tractor, a large continuous track tractor, the kind now on display at Pioneers Park Museum in Imperial.

Pangle added that her grandfather, Leslie McConnell, and her father, Jack McConnell, helped dig the All-American Canal during the 1930s. Pangle’s father was just 8 years old at the time and would bring horses to the construction site, riding one and leading three.

The McConnell story mirrors that of other multi-generational farming families in the Valley.

The Youngs are a fifth-generation farming family based in Calipatria, whose farming history began sometime shortly after 1910 when William E. Young Sr. settled in the Imperial Valley after a career building a railroad line between Texas and Mexico.

He built a life here and faced the challenges of the extreme conditions


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because of the availability of land.

He obtained his land under The Desert Land Act of 1877, which ended in 1910. The legislation incentivized the development of the West and the irrigation of desert lands. Young Sr. built his ranch and farmed in Calipatria along what is today Young Road.

According to his grandson, Federick “Rick” Young, William E. Young Sr. focused on farming cotton.

Today, Rick keeps the tradition of farming alive in the Valley’s Northend through his Rick Young Ranches. His daughter, Gina Dockstader, is also a farmer and is an Imperial Irrigation District director.

Rick shared how his grandfather, who served on the IID board in its early years, was known by the nickname “Two-Gun Bill,” because he carried two six-shooters at all times, even while farming.

“Everyone carried guns back then,” Rick said. “It was kind of a lawless time in those early years of the IID. There was a lot of infighting.”

Gina, who represents the fourth generation of the family that works in farming and whose son, Tanner Dockstader, has chosen to continue in farming, said back in those early years, communication was a challenge, especially when it came to managing water.

Farmers on horseback would have to find the zanjeros who managed the canals to make sure they received their water. Many years later, two-way radios came into use in the early 1970s, which improved communication in the field.

Another farming operation with a history that dates back more than 110 years is Jack Bros. Farms in Brawley, today owned and operated by Alex Jack.

It was in 1914 that his grandfather, Earl Jack, and Earl’s older brother, Alvin Jack, began to farm in the Valley.

“They were trying to find something to do,” Alex said. “Before that, Alvin was panning for gold along the Colorado River and that wasn’t working out too well.”

Their first connection to farming was in peddling vegetable crops they purchased in the Valley to buyers in Los Angeles. In 1914 they decided to rent farmland and begin growing their own crops under the Jack Bros. label.

Alex’s grandfather eventually went off to fight in World War I while his brother, Alvin, continued the farming operation. After the war, the brothers continued to farm until they went broke during the Great Depression. At that time they sold the family label to another company.

Earl Jack’s wife was a teacher, which sustained the family during those tough years. After the Depression, the Jack brothers were able to buy back their label, and at the advice of Earl’s wife they bought farmland.

“She told them the only farmers who were going to survive after the Depression were those who owned land,” Alex said.

During those early years, the Jack brothers helped found what became the Western Growers Association, in part to bring farmers together to challenge the railroad, which was driving up prices for shipping crops.

For Alex, growing up on the farm and watching his father, Neal, take over the operation, there was never doubt he wanted to continue the farming operation. Paula Pangle, Rick Young and his daughter, Gina Dockstader all say the same.

Farming is in their blood, despite the ever-

changing array of challenges the industry faces.

They all point out that among the challenges farmers face today are the number of laws and regulations that govern and set mandates on farming. Rising costs, many tied to regulations, also challenge farming today.

The demands on farmers to conserve water

- Photo provided by Jack Bros.

increases the complexity and cost of farming.

Yet along with challenges, farming today offers new opportunities. Today, the field of agriculture has opened to a wide variety of related careers that were unimaginable in the early 1900s. For instance, marketing, research, agricultural engineering, even water resource specialists have become common career opportunities in agriculture.

“The opportunities are unlimited in agriculture,” Pangle said.

All interviewed for this story said agriculture and family farms can have a bright future in the Valley, as long as farmers adapt to changes, just as they always have. Technology, they said, is key to the future.

“Farmers have to understand the new technology and invest in it if they are going to be successful,” Alex Jack said. “We have

to be progressive in what we do.”

Gina Dockstader added that protecting the future of Imperial Valley agriculture depends on growers getting involved in telling the story of the importance of the Valley’s agriculture.

“We need to tell our story better,” she said. “They need to know the important role we play in providing a good supply nationwide.” n


required to have a compliance agreement to outline the steps that they must follow to prevent the spread of this pest. In this 159 square mile area alone, CDFA has issued over 1,000 compliance agreements.

The reason behind this effort is because fruit flies can destroy a crop. Female

flies typically lay eggs inside of a fruit or vegetable, where they hatch into larvae (maggots). These larvae then eat the produce from the inside until maturity. The resulting produce typically becomes rotten and inedible, on top of being extremely unappetizing. While citrus fruit is a primary

host for the majority of the exotic fruit flies in California, a fruit fly may have over 200 possible host commodities, as is the case for the Queensland fruit fly. Allowing an exotic fruit fly to become established could decimate various agricultural crops, as well as affecting a wide variety of backyard fruit and vegetable production.

CDFA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have long-standing eradication protocols for fruit flies and are always ready to mobilize staff for emergency projects. Their goal, which has been extremely successful, is to ensure that no exotic fruit fly infestation becomes permanently established.

For Medfly, there is a sterile release program in California, wherein male fruit flies are irradiated, making them unable to reproduce. They are then released by airplane over the Los Angeles basin, an area with a long history of Medfly introductions. This makes it difficult for female flies to find a mate. This long-standing program has been extremely successful in preventing permanent infestation. While we don’t have this tool available for other species of exotic fruit flies, we do have pheromone lures, with a scent that effectively attracts fruit flies into traps. In the event of an infestation, the

A Jackson trap is placed in a peach tree to detect the presence of any adult exotic fruit flies. - Photo provided by CFDA

number of traps per square mile is increased from 5 to 1,000. This blankets a given area with the attractive scent, disrupting the mating cycle.

Another method of ensuring eradication is fruit removal. When fruit fly larvae are found, this shows that there is a breeding population in an area. In these instances, all host fruit within a specific distance are stripped from plants and fallen fruit are collected and destroyed. This prevents the next generation of flies from maturing and breeding. Fruit stripping can be devastating for a commercial harvest or a homeowner with a beloved backyard tree, but it is very effective and sometimes necessary to get the upper hand in an eradication effort. Fruit removal has recently been employed in densely populated areas of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties, affecting thousands of residents.

It is believed that most fruit fly infestations in California are the result of smuggled fruits


Some 648 acres of olive trees were under cultivation in Imperial County during 2022. The fruit is pressed to make olive oil.

and vegetables via international travelers. This theory was tested recently when international travel was severely interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, there were 17 fruit fly interceptions in California, nearly 50 fewer than the annual average. During this same period, commercially imported fruits and vegetable shipments were at relatively consistent levels, strongly implicating international travel and passenger baggage as the major pathway for exotic fruit fly introductions into the state.

With all of this in mind, we want to strongly encourage our Imperial County community members to help us prevent the spread of exotic fruit flies. There are several things that you can do to help.

First and foremost, check with our office (domestic) or U.S. Customs officials (international) before bringing fruits, vegetables, or propagative plant materials from other countries. Bringing fruits and

vegetables home from exotic locations is a huge risk.

Since eradication efforts are still underway in large portions of California, don’t bring homegrown fruits and vegetables from other areas within the state, especially if they are from a quarantined area.

If you do find larvae or other signs of pests on produce in your possession, do not compost them or put them into your green waste bin. Infested produce should be double-bagged and sealed to prevent pests from escaping and placed in a regular trash bin. You may also call our office for pest identification.

Finally, if CDFA or Agricultural Commissioner staff ask to survey or place a trap on your property, please cooperate.

Ultimately, we can’t successfully protect the local agricultural industry, the environment, and residential gardeners from harmful plant pests without community support. n


Expanding Ag Supply Business Now In Imperial

Winter is here in California, but Spring is approaching, and new life and growth will be bursting through at the seams. Green Rubber –Kennedy Ag (GRK) is also experiencing a season of growth as it has expanded from five locations to eight over the last three years. GRK has been a leader in the agricultural community for over 30 years, supplying belting, industrial supplies, custom parts and more to valuable foodprocessing partners on the Central Coast of California.

Beginning as a family business in the Salinas Valley, John Green Sr. and his son, John P. Green, founded Green Rubber They began by supplying conveyor belting to agricultural and industrial processing companies and that is where the “rubber” in Green Rubber originated. Creating custom belting solutions for food and other processing industries is a huge part of the business, and one where customer connection and first-class attention to detail are paramount.

In 1990, two brothers named Mark and Kirk Kennedy founded Kennedy Bros. With a four-person, Salinas-based team, they sold tanks, pumps, and spray equipment to local farmers. Thirteen years later, they had five locations throughout California. Both Green Rubber and Kennedy Bros served many of the same customers, and in 2003 the companies merged to become Green Rubber – Kennedy Ag

Starting with Salinas, Watsonville, Greenfield, Modesto and Yuma, strategic expansion has taken place to specific regions well known for food-processing and farming. In 2021, GRK opened its sixth store in Santa Maria to serve the vast wine production and produce industries in the area. GRK now has branches in Bakersfield and the Imperial Valley, where food production is the lifeline of these communities.

It seems every element to Green Rubber – Kennedy Ag’s growth and success began with the philosophy of serving the customer with great intention. This was exemplified

when GRK was called upon to help a friend in food processing on the Central Coast. In 2022, just days before Easter Sunday, the Taylor Farms Salad Processing facility in Salinas was destroyed by a massive fire. Days later, on Easter Sunday, the decision was made to rebuild and to complete the entire project in one year or less.

As a trusted partner with Taylor Farms for over 25 years, GRK was contacted to be a key supplier/partner in the project. This project turned out to be GRK’s largest series of related orders, and they were able to deliver on 100% of the orders -- and the entire project was completed on time.

Here is what Kevin Nobusada, a project engineer for the salad plant rebuild project, had to say about Green Rubber – Kennedy Ag:

“I’ve known Green Rubber since its beginning and have trusted John Green Sr. and John Green Jr. with my equipment engineering design business for over 30 years. For me, Green Rubber provides a very high level of customer service and expertise in sanitary equipment design components, both from other manufacturers as well as components, custom-manufactured, by Green Rubber My company, Fresh Processing Solutions, considers Green Rubber an important part of our team.

… I was awarded a very large equipment order from Taylor Farms for their Salinas food service plant rebuild project. I immediately turned to Green Rubber to provide us with the support needed to successfully complete the design and manufacturing of our eleven wash systems for Taylor Farms Food Service…

Green Rubber ’s sales department expedited sanitary components and Green Rubber ’s custom-manufacturing sta worked tirelessly to manufacture and deliver all the components on time… Looking forward to our next project working with Green Rubber Kennedy Ag!”

Kevin Nobusada, Owner/President, Fresh Processing Solutions, Inc. (FreshPro)

Upon completion of the project, this facility is now the largest and most modern salad-processing facility in the world.

Altogether, Green Rubber – Kennedy Ag has emerged as a leader, with a growing company and a first-class reputation for customer service. GRK has grown by not only expanding the territories it serves, but its product lines and services as well. GRK carries one-of-a-kind products such as the K-80 detergent, the best spray tank cleaning product on the market. It also carries Steamericas sanitary steam products, Pioneer steel water tanks and polyurethane tanks by Snyder. Generac generators, Honda pumps, and products from top brands like Banjo, Tingley, TeeJet, Hotsy and more are available through GRK.

Celebrating over 30 years as the most diverse Agri-dustrial distributor in the Western U.S., GRK continues to serve with knowledge, expertise, and above-andbeyond customer support. Come by Green Rubber – Kennedy Ag at 116 N. J St. in Imperial or call us at (800) 452-2053 for your full-service fabrication needs, including custom belting and urethane parts, and for all your industrial and agricultural equipment and parts needs. n

Green Rubber-Kennedy Ag, Imperial.
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