Tanimura & Antle's Samantha Cabaluna Leads ANUK on the Spreckels Field Day Tour
SPRECKELS, CA - Walking across Tanimura & Antle’s expansive Spreckels, California-based operation during the morning hours on Thursday, it was easy to see why this company is one of the industry leaders and innovators in fresh produce. Already, the footprint of the operation was abuzz with activity, as we began our tour of the grounds and operations. Tanimura & Antle kicked off its three-week Spreckels Field Days extravaganza on July 11th with the program culminating this week, just in time for PMA Foodservice.
"We hosted Spreckels Field Days to bring all the aspects of our business together–from seed breeding to ag tech to farming to labor practices and employee housing," Samantha Cabaluna, VP of Brand Marketing and Communications, tells me. "Sharing the full extent of what we do is the foundation for building strong partnerships with our customers and with all of our communities."
Along with tours of Tanimura & Antle’s growing and harvest operations and Spreckels Crossing employee housing development, the team also highlighted its product showcase, and Three Star Lettuce seed company variety trials. Also on the schedule for the day were demonstrations of Tanimura & Antle’s PlantTape Automated Transplanting and Robovator technologies–a treat in itself and a testament to the direction that the company is focusing its growth. Seed trials have become very important to Tanimura & Antle in recent years, as the company looks bring the best varieties to market and cultivate the most efficient and sustainable use of its technology, land, and labor.
“While 3 Star Lettuce’s parent company is Tanimura & Antle, the most important aspect of the relationship is that Tanimura & Antle is our customer as well. We look to benefit the industry as a whole. Our core business is lettuce seed, and our sales approach is direct sales to the grower, allowing us to engage with that end user, ” Javier Saldana, General Manager at the company, shares. “Our footprint reaches from the Salinas Valley, California, to the desert Southwest in Yuma and Imperial, as well as Florida and throughout Canada. In the States, we also sell through distributorships in areas that have smaller acreage, such as the Midwest, Northwest, and Northeast.”
3 Star Lettuce also participates in the international market, including Spain, the U.K., and Australia, as well as South and Central America and South Africa. Seed production is mainly in the San Joaquin Valley where the company is currently harvesting. 3 Star has grown its reputation globally for its R&D program, which conducts its studies in the field according to the specific growing areas where the varieties are being requested, and developed for.
Tanimura & Antle packages 3 Star’s specialty lettuce which is branded under its Artisan Lettuce program, among many other 3 Star innovations.
Just then, Javier bends down and cuts and trims Tanimura & Antle’s Artisan Romaine lettuce and holds out the leaves for us to try. The experience is sweet, crisp, and refreshing–and provides the perfect little holder for any number of tasty treats, from chicken lettuce wraps, to tacos, to hummus and veggies. Everything that 3 Star develops for Tanimura & Antle is made for the fresh-market, to be packed in the field with the utmost quality.
Overall, Tanimura & Antle manages 27,000 crop acres internally and another 13,000 crop acres with grower partners. Samantha breaks it down for more, in one of the best analogies I have heard.
“Produce is like a Rubik’s cube. From seed selection and variety development, to timing on planting, harvesting, and proximity to coolers–managing all the moving parts is a feat,” Samantha says, then smiles. “And Mother Nature bats last.”
Isn’t that the truth. All the strategic investments and efforts in the Tanimura & Antle program strive to evolve a program already on the leading edge of produce. Take Tanimura & Antle’s PlantTape. This automated transplanting system uses proprietary and unique tape-like plugs and soil blocks. PlantTape offers a fully integrated system, from sowing the tape, to germination, and even nursery care. The end result is transplanting into the field. Utilizing the technology means that 80 percent less labor is required.
As Danielle Vallejo, Planting Supervisor for PlantTape tells me, it isn’t about replacing labor or taking jobs away from people, but making parts of the operation more efficient and faster. The human touch and human eye will always be needed. Danielle is what you would call the PlantTape Whisperer. Or so that is what I call her now after watching her work the machine like a musical instrument–an orchestra of movement and machinery she explains like it is an extension of herself.
Samantha echoes the sentiment that skilled labor cannot be replicated. There are too many variables that are so specific to how Tanimura & Antle selects and define quality and consistency, she adds.
“Currently utilizing PlantTape 7–or rather version PT7 - PT8 is just over the horizon. So, stay tuned,” Danielle says with excitement in her voice.
As Samantha and the Tanimura & Antle team lead us through the late morning and into the surprisingly pleasant warmth of the day, we are introduced to the Tanimura & Antle Agricultural Employee Housing Project: Spreckels Crossing.
The first residents moved into the two-bedroom, two-bathroom units last year with each unit capable of accommodating up to eight employees with the option to rent a room with fewer occupants, if preferred. Apartments are fully-furnished, and include an on-site store and lounge, with access to computers, laundry room, recreation room, baseball and soccer fields, and communal barbeque and picnic areas. Wi-Fi and utilities are included.
The milestones that Tanimura & Antle has achieved in just the short time I have been in the industry are remarkable. From innovation in technology and variety development, to the care and commitment the team has to their employees, Tanimura & Antle is raising the bar, and in doing so, asking the industry to raise its own.