Growing bell peppers and tomatoes on the vine isn’t just a job for SunSelect Produce, Inc. — it’s their specialty and involves a highly technical and tracked process.
Advanced farming techniques and state-of-the-art technology maintain and grow plants, control indoor climate, and reuse energy to help the environment at the more than 3-year-old greenhouses in Cummings Valley. This combination makes it possible to ship their product to California stores and throughout the nation.
In Cummings Valley, new greenhouses are being built and expanding, with SunSelect Produce, Inc. one of the first to start massive production efforts.
“We have the ability to micromanage the crop, the amount of water, spray and lighting. It's much more in detail than in an open space area,” said Chad Ianneo, president of SunSelect Produce, Inc.
He added, “It makes it easier to grow, and we can do a better job in production.”
More than 64 acres of greenhouses in Cummings Valley grow 1.4 million units of produce annually, Ianneo said. That produce includes tomatoes on the vine and bell peppers.
The company uses a technique called hydroponics. It is a method to grow plants in water, using an infusion of nutrients. The plants are given specific amounts up to 30 times a day. A highly advanced Dutch computer system called Priva controls the climate, light, carbon dioxide and irrigation. This enables each plant to grow about 190 feet per nine- to 12-month season, depending on what is grown, Ianneo said.
“Our computer system really runs it all,” added Ianneo.
The positive pressure facility maintains a higher pressure inside various divisions of the greenhouses, depending on the need of the plants.
“The plants are always changing based on the weather, different viruses or pests. You always find new things to learn to prepare for a future situation,” said Juan Jimenez, supervisor at SunSelect Produce, Inc.
Massive engines generate electricity fed by a natural gas pipeline that runs through the valley, producing carbon dioxide the plants need.
Boilers supply hot water through the metal pipes regulating the temperature on the floor in each row, while fans blow regulated air through the facilities. The metal pipes even double as a base for worker stands, when the vines are ready to trim and produce is ready to harvest.
Automated carts follow grooves on the concrete, transporting goods and cuttings. The cuttings are also recycled and sold to feed lots.
Natural solutions and challenges
Nature is used to fight pests and pollinate the flowers of plants.
“Instead of using technology, we use nature in some form,” said Ianneo. “One of the nice things of growing indoors is that we use a lot of predatory mites and bumblebees.” If pesticide is used, they have the ability to spray a certain area and not the whole crop.
One challenge of growing indoors is fighting a bacteria called Clavibacter that will seriously damage the tomato plant. Staff have to be trained to identify and treat the plant quickly, before it spreads to other plants.
Staff and customers
More than 100 employees work at SunSelect, Inc. and they are from various areas of the Antelope Valley and Bakersfield, with some from Tehachapi.
“We really are lucky to have a great group of people,” said Ianneo. He added, “They are very dedicated. It's not an easy job.”
The company would like to see more skilled workers in the electrical, maintenance, mechanical and engineering fields. They are hard to find. Workers who have knowledge of computer systems for greenhouses are needed and even if a person doesn’t have experience, they can be trained, added Ianneo.
Customers can buy some of the produce in stores such as Walmart, Safeway, Wholefoods Market and Costco.
“Consumption determines where the produce goes,” said Ianneo.
For more information, visit sunselect.ca.