What is in this article?:
- First-generation California grower Eduardo Garcia is growing blackberry plants in coir instead of soil in Santa Paula, Calif.
- Coir consists of different parts of the coconut husk.
- Garcia is using coir for two reasons – to steer away from the use of soil fumigants and a timely market window which could bring a premium price for his blackberries.
EDUARDO GARCIA is a first-generation farmer growing blackberries in coir instead of soil in the Santa Clara River Valley near Santa Paula, Calif. (Ventura County)
Passion of farminig
Garcia intends to plant another 35 acres of blackberries in coir over the next few years.
The blackberry plant is a perennial which is replaced about every three years. Garcia planted the Prime Ark 45 blackberry variety.
As a new grower, Garcia understands there is a lot to learn about berry production. He respects the generations of berry growers who have preceded him. Garcia shares the passion for berry farming.
Garcia initially studied engineering at California Polytechnic University, Pamona. During his studies, Garcia was intrigued by the diverse crops grown in the area; so much so that he enrolled in several agriculture classes. He was hooked on agriculture — hook, line, and sinker.
Garcia dropped his engineering quest and received a bachelor’s degree in agronomy. He minored in pest control. His college senior ag project was a strawberry fertility trial. Garcia is now pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree.
“My agronomy classes helped me understand that plants do all the work and how plants react to pruning and fertilization,” Garcia said. “As growers, we guide the plants. The key is to allow plants to progress naturally while keeping them pest-free.”
As part of his blackberry research, Garcia consulted with growers in California’s largest blackberry region - the Watsonville area in Santa Cruz County. He also talked with growers in the State of Baja California in northern Mexico.
According to the Ventura County ag commissioner’s office, Ventura County is the second largest berry-producing county in California behind Monterey County. Berry production in Ventura County is an $800 million business annually with more than 14,000 acres planted in strawberries and raspberries alone. Strawberries by far are the top crop. Blackberry acreage is small in comparison.
Profitability is a key reason why Garcia entered blackberry production. In the West, the blackberry market is dominated during the spring and summer months by fruit from the Watsonville area and the Pacific Northwest. Mexican-grown berries flood the market during the winter months.
The late summer-early fall period is when blackberries are absent from the market. This is the window where Garcia aims to have his berries on the fresh market.
Hitting the market during this overall crop downtime is when blackberry grower prices generally increase. Garcia believes his blackberries can fetch a premium.
In addition, Garcia believes the use of coir will allow him to manipulate the plants to extend the growing season.
“The use of coir will allow me to better control the plants,” Garcia said. “If I can hit this market niche with a decent price for the berries then I’ll be successful.”
Garcia is aiming for 20,000 pound yields per acre annually using coir. He says current soil-based blackberry production yields about 15,000 pounds to 20,000 pounds per acre annually.
Garcia picked his first berries this summer. Garcia and several other workers hand-pick the mouth-watering fruit several times a week.