The extension system inputs in California are excellent. A Farm Advisor system exists throughout most counties and a station at the Imperial Valley was established over 20 years ago. A significant amount of weather history was available from the extension service which would prove important to identify when to plant so that a harvesting schedule could be developed. The Extension Service also had significant data on the location of various soil types in the Imperial County which aided in locating the sites for field production. We were also able to obtain additional information on the Valley's current crops, their relative value, and the crop rotation schedule. Tomatoes cannot follow certain crops because of potential herbicide carryover problems.
The California Process Tomato Growers Association (CTGA) had been established back in 1948. In 1988, there were approximately 570 California tomato growers, almost half of them CTGA members. There were eight CTGA members located in Imperial Valley. These eight growers established a set of contacts to begin working with which then allowed the Agriculture Department to begin developing a grower base. As the growers were being identified, a contract needed to be created which specifically detailed (1) total tonnage; (2) price per ton; (3) incentives; (4) timing (delivery schedule); (5) deductions and payment schedule. Most contracts are developed on a tonnage basis and the grower is responsible to calculate area requirements. In the Imperial Valley, the Campbell contract was on an area basis because of our lack of sufficient historical yield information. Incentives would include tomatoes with higher soluble solids and early production. A tomato cultivar program was developed based on the weather data and the type of tomato paste in shortest supply. The cultivars selected had to be extremely firm because of the long distance the tomatoes would have to be trucked. The delivery schedule also needed to be created. Normal production from Fresno usually started the first of July; therefore, production had to commence prior to July. The goal was to start harvesting in the Imperial Valley the first of June. The last consideration was to make sure that the farmers had all the specific farm equipment necessary for growing the processing tomatoes. Bed shapers, seeders, cultivators were some specific implements, but probably the most important piece was the custom tomato harvester. Very few harvesters were available in the Imperial Valley, but the California processing tomato industry was large enough to have developed a custom harvest industry. This custom harvesting industry trucked the machines to the Imperial Valley and was able to provide this critical service to the Imperial growers.
The state of California had created a marketing order to develop the Tomato Processing Advisory Board which set up an inspection system based on color, soluble solids, mold damage, and insect damage. After the tomatoes are harvested and loaded directly into open gondolas, the trucks are directed to the nearest state certified station. Each tomato load is sampled a minimum of four times with a plunger that is capable of taking 45 kg each cycle. The tomatoes are dumped into a bucket and brought to the station to have all the specific measurements performed. If the tomatoes did not meet state grade, loads were either sorted or dumped.
An elaborate transportation system was created to have the tomatoes hauled from the Imperial Valley to Campbell's nearest paste production plant in Stockton, 1,086 km (675 miles) away. To eliminate the need for two drivers per load, a double hub system was created. In this manner, one driver could complete one complete cycle and not exceed his allowable driving time. The double hub system created an extra station between Imperial and Stockton to act as a transfer point. This extra station had responsibility to weigh trucks and add tomatoes to maximize loads. The harvesting of tomatoes and transportation to the paste plants was done completely at night in order to avoid the deleterious effect of the Imperial Valley's high day temperatures on fruit quality.
The last input for the successful introduction of tomatoes into this new region is a real time computer-based information system. It was critical for maximum plant efficiency to process a specific number of loads per day; thus, it was necessary to know how many loads were to be harvested, when the loads were on the road and past the inspection station, and finally at the middle exchange station. An elaborate tagging system was installed to follow loads from Imperial to Stockton so a dispatcher could call up any terminal in the system and determine the number of loads at any particular step in the system.
California growers responded quickly to the tomato paste shortage after 1988 (Table 1). By the end of the 1990 season, a 42% increase in harvested tonnage was accomplished by means of an additional 34,000 ha of tomatoes.
|Area harvested (ha)|
|Average yield (t/ha)|
|Start-up||June 5||June 6|
|Soluble solids (%)||4.5||4.97|
|Total tonnes 46% equiv. tomato paste||5,554||6,511|
|No. of growers||10||10|