Economy & Market Forces, Employers & Employment

Agriculture: Tomato Grower Harry Singh & Sons Restructuring Business

From NCTimes.com, North County Times, “AGRICULTURE: Tomato grower Harry Singh & Sons restructuring business” by Pat Maio, 26 Mar 2011.

Imports Increase and Costs Rise

A worker tends tomato plants at Harry Singh & Sons farm in Oceanside in 2006. (NCT file photo by Jamie Scott Lytle)

A worker tends tomato plants at Harry Singh & Sons farm in Oceanside in 2006. (NCT file photo by Jamie Scott Lytle)

OCEANSIDE [CA] —- Harry Singh & Sons, one of the largest suppliers of vine-ripened tomatoes in the United States, is restructuring its business to reflect a growing tide of imports from Mexico, along with rising fuel, labor and water costs, a spokeswoman said.

The family-owned farm that has grown tomatoes and other crops at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside and Bonsall for 70 years is restructuring its operation in response to a “variety of economic conditions,” said Barbara Metz, a spokeswoman for Harry Singh & Sons.

The grower also notified its 87 full-time employees that they could be laid off, although there are no assurances that any might be let go, Metz said.

“We won’t know how many employees are laid off until the reorganization is complete,” she said.

Metz also said that this is a “significant juncture” in the history of Harry Singh & Sons.

She said that Harry Singh Jr., the president of the farming enterprise, and his sons, David, Krishna, Priya and Omar, own or lease more than 800 acres of land on Camp Pendleton, Oceanside and Bonsall.

About 350 acres of the family’s operation is on Camp Pendleton.

Metz said that the family is in talks with officials at Camp Pendleton, the largest West Coast training facility for the Marines Corps, regarding several options —- everything from seeking lower lease payments on the land to giving up some of it.

“The negotiations with Camp Pendleton are ongoing right now. They are looking at everything,” she said. “We will know more in a month. The intention is to maintain the family’s legacy in farming in California.”

A Camp Pendleton spokesman could not immediately comment on the status of the discussions.

Metz emphasized that the farm is not going out of business.

“They’re restructuring. There may be some layoffs,” she said.

Harry Singh & Sons has primarily grown tomatoes over the past 70 years, with some crops of celery, peppers and strawberries.

The farm, which was started by Harry Singh Sr. in 1940, grows about 4 1/2 million cartons of tomatoes annually. A carton weighs between 22 and 26 pounds.

Tomato growers in California —- like avocado growers locally —- have faced stiff competition from central Mexico and have struggled to cope with rising water costs.

“We are seeing a fairly significant increase in tomatoes coming into the United States, about a 30 percent increase in shipments through McClellan (Texas),” the border crossing for shipping tomatoes north out of Mexico, said Ed Beckman, president of the California Tomato Farmers, a cooperative in Fresno whose growers represent 85 percent of the state’s tomato producers.

Beckman said Mexico invested $51 million in greenhouse construction in 2009, and that tomato production from that capital investment is beginning to pay off —- despite a freeze that slowed the flow in December and January.

“Farming, as you know, is a very unique industry,” Beckman said. “The returns are often dictated outside of your control.”

Harry Singh & Sons isn’t the first tomato operation to be affected by imports and rising costs.

A year ago, Gargiulo Inc., a Fresno-based tomato producer, restructured its business to reflect the listless economy.

Call staff writer Pat Maio at 760-740-3527.

Read at: NCTimes.com, North County Times, “AGRICULTURE: Tomato grower Harry Singh & Sons restructuring business” by Pat Maio, 26 Mar 2011.

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