A visit with Fresno County California Tomato grower, Stuart Woolf.
"Today we are producing close to three times what Dad was doing on the same land in the 70’s. The harvesters that he used in his day, had about twenty people sorting on the machine. Today’s machine has two picking out foreign material, and really, we could get by with zero. Today We will just mulch all the organic material back into the ground as a one-pass operation, where years ago we would have been doing five or six passes when we were furrow irrigating instead of buried drip irrigation. So, we are tilling the ground a lot less, using less diesel. This requires less water, it requires less fertilizer, it requires less of everything, and so we really are producing more with less.
We can add any materials that we need to add to the plant. We can just put it directly into the root zone through the buried drip irrigation and it is a vastly more efficient way to distribute and deliver fertilizer to these plants. In late January or early February, we are putting transplants in the ground and then we get that buried drip going and get moisture to the plants. A coffee bag size unit of (non GMO)) hybrid seeds costs about $5 – 6,000 for 100,000 seeds. We also put out beneficial insects because, you’ve got a battle going on out here and you want to support the right team. We go after the insects that are real problems for us.
This one county grows about the same amount of tomatoes as Italy! It grows almost 40% of California’s production and California is 92% of the US production. Even with the yields we are getting, with satellites and other technology, we are capturing so much more information today than we ever had before; you look across the field, and it looks very uniform and everything, but there are pockets of this field that are doing probably 80 or 90 tons, and other pockets that are doing 45, 50, 60 tons. And I think the trick is going to be for us to figure out how do we make it all 90. So, I still think we are going to get smarter, we are going to get better, we are going to start using big data to capture data from satellites and in-field sensors to really dial this thing in even more. My guess is if you were to go forward another ten or fifteen years, we will look back on this and kind of chuckle that we were only talking about 60 tons per acre out in the field.