Stoel Rives | Deeply Rooted Podcast Episode One: Keeping America Fed

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In the inaugural episode of the Stoel Rives | Deeply Rooted podcast, host Adam Dittman, Co-Lead of Stoel Rives’ agribusiness, food, beverage and timber industry group, sat down with Jeff Huckaby, President & CEO of Grimmway Farms, to discuss Jeff’s views on the state of agriculture and organic farming.

Jeff HuckabyThe Current Landscape of Agriculture in the US

During the early weeks of government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, there was tremendous uncertainty in the integrity of the supply chain across all industries. In the podcast, Jeff commended the agriculture industry for rising to the occasion to ensure a safe and consistent food supply, noting that “the American farmer was able to keep all the shelves on the grocery store filled every day. You did not see people panicking because there was no fresh produce like there was bottled water or toilet paper. You have to hand it to the American farmer. We were able to keep things going when there was panic buying.”

Despite the industry’s resiliency, Jeff noted that challenges the agriculture industry faces now and in the future are becoming increasingly urgent. “We have less water, less land, and more mouths to feed every single year. So, the pressures going forward are quite extreme. Right now, American farmers are extremely strong. Going forward, there will be challenges,” Jeff said.

Climate Change and the Impact on Water Distribution

Even with advanced farming technology and the experience that Grimmway has as one of America’s largest growers, the changing climate presents an ever-evolving challenge. “We can do everything right but can have a disaster because of mother nature,” Jeff said, adding that “in my 30 plus years of growing carrots, we see the climate changing in some of the different areas we farm in. I’m not saying why it is happening, I’m just saying that we have had to adapt our planning schedules.”

The effects of climate change and water supply continue to impact how Grimmway manages its farms and how it ensures access to water. Jeff observed, “in California, where the majority of our production is, we are learning how we deal with the different climate (changes). We are seeing more of our precipitation come as rain instead of snowpack. When it comes as rain, it comes quickly and we do not have the infrastructure in place to capture it all.” This results in much of the precipitation making its way to the ocean, and when summer comes many of the reservoirs are left dry. This all results in less and less surface water being allocated to farmers.

Supply Chain Challenges

Whether it is timber and forest products or products for food and beverage companies, host Adam Dittman noted that across all the industries Stoel Rives represents there have been significant constraints in the supply and transportation chain. In the agriculture industry, Jeff views these as a growing long-term problem, saying, “when you look at the cost pressures that are coming, they are everywhere. There is a trickle effect that goes throughout the supply chain. All those (costs) go into while we farm the product, during the packaging, and finally – the distribution.”

Jeff observed that Grimmway feels this crunch most severely in moving its products across the country, as there is a shortage of truck drivers, noting that the cost to transport its products to the East Coast has almost doubled. “We’re concerned. How are we going to continue to do this and get our products throughout the US? This is going to be a tough year when it comes to logistics,” Jeff said.

Successfully Farming Organic Production at Scale

Grimmway’s Cal Organic brand is the largest single grower of organic vegetables in the US, and Grimmway has a track record of producing organics successfully at scale. Grimmway made a big bet in the 1990s. “We started with a few hundred acres, and we learned to cultivate them, where to place the fertilizers,” Jeff said. “We have now proven not only can we get similar yields (than conventional farming), day in and day out our organic carrots are higher yielding and higher quality than our conventional carrots.”

With the growth in organic production, Grimmway’s success has gone beyond learning the farming practices that are successful to produce them at scale. Jeff’s team at Grimmway knows the integrity behind organics is so important for the American consumer to make sure consumers understand what they are getting, and Grimmway has invested heavily in ensuring its products keep that integrity as it scales, saying, “nothing has changed from the first few hundred acres to the way we farm today organically. That farm manager is still looking at all those crops, but it is at scale.”

Adam asked Jeff if he sees a world where organic products eclipse conventional in retail grocery stores. “Every year it blows me away the growth of organics that is continuing to happen. From a sustainability standpoint, we are switching all of our lands to organics. That is the bet we are making going forward.”

To listen to the inaugural episode and future episodes, subscribe to the Stoel Rives | Deeply Rooted podcast at https://www.stoel.com/the-stoel-rives-deeply-rooted-podcast or on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The views expressed on this podcast are solely those of the individuals involved, and may not reflect the views of Stoel Rives LLP. Participation in this podcast by any individual is not an endorsement of such person or of any view or opinion expressed.

Key Contributors

Adam H. Dittman
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