From the Farmer's Tractor
August 27, 2013
A.G. Kawamura, 56, raises strawberries on 1000 acres of land in Southern California for his Orange County Produce, LLC Farms. Kawamura is a third generation farmer.
How did you get into farming?
My grandfather and father started our business in 1946, and I joined the company in 1978 after college.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
Over the past 25 years our company has continued to implement sustainable and organic practices into our farming operations. In the past 10 years we have started to transition significant acreage to certified organic. We do not own any of the land that we farm on, and so our certified organic ground can only be implemented on land with long lease terms or new ground that has been idle or not farmed. We embrace new pest control strategies and continue to modify our fertilization and soil health practices. We are growing different and new crops that require different farming practices. We continue to invest in new technologies that improve efficiencies, including GPS guidance for tractors, laser leveling, slow release fertilizers and harvest assist tools.
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
Fruit and vegetable production will continue to evolve with new varieties that deliver higher yields, are disease resistant and heat tolerant, and so on. Irrigation strategies and technologies that enhance efficiencies will be introduced. We will need to become better at navigating through the new regulatory mandates of food safety, worker safety, conservation of water and soil requirements and immigration reform.
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
Hard to say when there are so many threats to farming viability. It may be immigration and labor one year; it may be water shortage or complying with multiple new regulations and costs (i.e. workers comp., health care, food safety) the next. Or, it could be staying competitive in the marketplace with competition from other countries and districts/states with lower costs of production or regulatory burdens. In the years ahead it may be access to farmland in an urban area.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
The retailer will continue to demand consistent quality and supply… no changes there. The relationship with buyers is built over time and generally communication of expectations and projections are continuous.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
We do not own the land that we farm on, but there are clear covenants in our leases as well as state/federal laws that require us to implement conservation practices on our farm. Soil erosion, dust control and water runoff mitigation are all addressed in our on-farm practices. We grow some cover crops for over winter and have an aggressive compost replenishment program to improve soil health and tilth.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We currently sell at farmers markets, and work with local purveyors and direct market with restaurants and bakeries. At the same time we are working with major chain stores on their locally grown programs, and also have built our business model around a regional (Western United States) strategy.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
They are generally happy to meet a farmer. They are surprised to know that agriculture is still active in Orange County. They also like to ask for advice about their backyard gardening failures (i.e. What’s wrong with my tomatoes?).