Throughout California’s fertile farming valleys lies one of the greatest agricultural success stories in recent years.
Its name is Sun Pacific, a farming operation that spans 30,000 acres (12,141 hectares) in the San Joaquin Valley — some of the most productive farmland in the world. Despite challenges imposed by state regulatory agencies and Mother Nature in recent years, Sun Pacific has grown to become the nation’s largest grower and shipper of kiwi and the second largest producer of navel oranges, mandarin oranges, and tomatoes. The farm is also renowned for its Air-Chef-label table grapes. The farm ships 35 million boxes of fresh fruit a year, feeding people around the world.
In recent years, clementine oranges have become the darling of the farm. Branded the Cuties®, these super-sweet, seedless, snack-size citrus gems have rapidly grown in popularity nationwide. Right behind them is another rising star. Drawing on the success of the Cuties brand, Sun Pacific launched the Mighties™ brand of kiwi fruit last fall. Already, this amazing fuzzy fruit has a stronghold in the produce section of some of the nation’s largest grocery chains.
On the farm, Mighties are growing mightier in number. Sun Pacific is expanding its kiwi production by 900 acres (364 hectares). The first phase of expansion includes 288 acres (117 hectares) near Marysville, Calif., just an hour north of the state’s capital in the Sacramento Valley.
High-tech Engines Boost Irrigation Efficiency
Tom Schultz is in charge of developing and managing the new kiwi acreage. A 35-year veteran in the kiwi business, Schultz oversees everything, from the vineyard planting to the construction of a large reservoir that will be the source of irrigation water.
Kiwi crops are thirsty, and Schultz is executing a plan that will ensure this high-value fruit gets the water it needs to be productive — without being wasteful. That’s especially important in California as the state endured another year of drought in 2015.
Schultz carefully calculates how each section of the farm is irrigated. “I have a catalog of each square foot that’s been mapped out on this ranch,” says Schultz. “Knowing the different soil types and soil depth really helps us determine how to irrigate. We also have an efficient irrigation system that will deliver that water.”
As rows of kiwi ripen on trellises under the Californian sun, a heavy mist emits from miles of hose propped up by 55,000 trellis poles. There are 110,000 emitters that deliver the precise amount of moisture to the crop. Schultz manages and irrigates the farm in 20-acre (8-hectare) blocks. Soil moisture probes and evapotranspiration sensors help Schultz and his team gauge when and how much to irrigate.
Latest Engine Technology Aligns With Emission Regulations
The water-conserving misters that hang above the crop are fed by a daisy chain of pipes and booster pumps. At the top of this chain, positioned at the reservoir, are four irrigation-pumping units: two electric as well as two diesel-powered units driven by 250-horsepower (187-kW) John Deere PowerTech PSS 6.8L Final Tier 4/Stage IV engines.
Federal, state, and local clean air standards require all new irrigation-pumping units meet the new emissions regulations. Schultz says the new Final Tier 4/Stage IV engines align with the farm’s mission to be good stewards of the environment. “Nobody wants to pollute the air,” he says.
Western Power Products in Bakersfield, Calif., packaged the power units. The John Deere engine distributor has an in-house engineering team devoted to helping OEMs and end users meet Final Tier 4/Stage IV emission standards. Sun Pacific purchased their engines from Kern Machinery.
Emissions compliance aside, Schultz says engine reliability is of utmost importance to Sun Pacific, especially during cold snaps. To safeguard the kiwi vineyard from frost damage, Sun Pacific will start up the irrigation pumping units and pump high volumes of water through an overhead sprinkler system and encase the crop with ice.
“It’s a crazy site when you see a big ice encasement over the crop,” says Schultz. “You can’t believe it’s really saving the crop, but it does.”
Schultz recalls when a hard freeze damaged California’s navel oranges in December 1990. The freeze was followed by European imports of mandarin clementine oranges into the U.S. “The owner of Sun Pacific said, ‘Why don’t we grow these here?’” says Schultz. Sun Pacific soon became the first in the U.S., to plant a large block and called them Cuties.
“The rest is history,” says Schultz. “It’s a phenomenal success story.” A story that’s only bound to grow greater with Mighties.