Santa Paula's Limoneira Co., already the largest farming operation in Ventura County, has increased its citrus production in recent months.
The 105-year-old business has been reaping the benefits of the 1,400 acres of San Joaquin Valley orange groves it purchased last summer. And its production of lemons--the company's primary crop--has increased with the recent conversion of unprofitable Valencia orange acreage in and outside Ventura County.
To accommodate the additional bounty and in hopes of remaining competitive in an industry that has become increasingly populated worldwide, officials at Limoneira have broken ground on a 66,000-square-foot citrus storage facility.
The structure, which will accommodate 175 truckloads, or about 175,000 cartons, of refrigerated citrus, will enable Limoneira to keep produce fresh for its markets around the world, throughout the year. The company already can provide cold storage for up to 375 truckloads of citrus.
In particular, the new storage facility is intended to help provide more quality lemons for Pacific Rim and U.S. markets.
"Lemon production from Ventura County is pretty much year-round, but the bulk is from February to April and tapering off thereafter," said Pierre Tada, president and chief executive of Limoneira. "But the market that enables the Ventura County lemon industry to survive is really the summer market. The storage facility will help bridge the time between when the fruit is ready and when it sells."
The facility is expected to be operational by fall, in time for the 1999 lemon season starting in February.
"This is a competitive investment, not just in a local sense but in a global sense," Tada said. "With citrus in general, we're currently competing with Australia, Chile, South Africa, Israel, Spain and Argentina."
It's the Argentine lemon production that has Tada particularly concerned. That country recently developed about 80,000 acres of lemons, compared with fewer than 70,000 acres in all of California and Arizona, Tada said.
"There's significant competition on its way and that's all the more reason to have sufficient storage," he said. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working diligently to allow the fruit into the U.S. in the name of free trade."
Tada said he expects Limoneira's lemon production to climb from its present 2.5-million cartons annually to 3 million within the next few years.