From the Farmer's Tractor
March 30, 2008
Butch Massa, 67, farms both head and leaf lettuces in Salinas, California. His 700-acre farm, Monterey Bay Farms, LLC, is a joint effort between himself and Church Brothers. Raised in the business, Massa has been farming nearly all his life.
How did you get into lettuce farming?
Unlike most farmers, my grandfather was a vegetable farmer from the beginning here in Salinas, all the way back in 1911. I am a third generation farmer.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
It would take a book to describe how farming practices have changed in the last 10 years. Mostly, the changes have occurred as the salad processors grew to dominate the fresh lettuce business. Different techniques were required to make it cost effective.
How will lettuce farming evolve in the next five years?
I wish I knew. I think head lettuce will be stable and the growth will be more in the leaf lettuces and spring mixes. Mechanical harvesting will become more important because of labor costs.
What is your greatest challenge as a lettuce farmer?
The greatest challenge facing lettuce farming is the same as any other production facility. We struggle with how to maximize yields while trying to contain costs, and at the same time working to meet or exceed all the food safety implementations.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
This requires feedback from your shipper or processor in realistic terms. We need to know where the trends are going so adjustments can be made in real time.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
For conservation, we use 100% flow control sprinkler irrigation to prevent runoff. And over 55% of our fertilizer needs are satisfied through compost.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
When consumers have met with us the reaction has always been positive; sometimes even amazement. Consumers are impressed by to what it takes to grow and get our lettuce to the market.