as Sebastian’s three sons Ernest, Norman and Stanley joined the family business and took it into the 1990s, which was when the growth curve started to rise sharply. Rod Braga, Norman’s oldest son and the current President/CEO, joined the company in the early 1990s, and has been involved in much of that growth. It was in the early 1990s that Braga Ranch added its custom harvesting operation, grew its farming division and launched its fertilizer application unit. By the late 1990s, it was beginning to grow organic crops. In the mid-2000s, the company added production in the Imperial Valley. The Josie’s Organic label was launched in 2012, with the fresh cut division debuting in 2016. Today, Rod estimated that about 70 percent of its production is organic with 30 percent conventional. Its commodity business still holds the majority position in its daily output but value-added is growing rapidly. And as it has done for many decades, Braga Ranch remains a grower of both organic and conventional crops for many other California shippers. “We have relationships that go back decades, especially on the processing side,” Rod said. The Organic Piece : “We’d like to say we got into organics driven by philosophy, but we sort of lucked into it,” Rod said. He explained that the company acquired some land in the 1990s that hadn’t been farmed. The organic movement was gaining traction at the time and this land presented an opportunity to join the party without having to transition land from conventional to organic production. They started slowly and increased their acreage gradually until they had transitioned the entire 600-acre home ranch. Growth continued after that to other owned and leased land. Braga has enjoyed leading the charge as the category has exploded over the past two decades. “As organics have become more mainstream, the category can’t grow by the same percentage as it once did,” Rod said, “but it is still growing, and we are still seeing double-digit year-over-year growth.” Rod noted that he had just returned from a sales trip to Iowa where every store he
visited seems to have an ever-increasing organics department. He added that organic sales in the Midwest were once the domain of the larger cities and the college towns, but now even markets in the most rural communities feature organic fruits and vegetables. The Dynamics of the Organic Market : With more than 20 years of experience under their family belt, the Bragas are expert in growing organic crops. Rod said every crop is different but with some— such as Romaine hearts and celery—they get almost identical yields from their organic and conventional fields. In others—such as broccoli and cauliflower— pest pressure within the product itself makes it difficult for an organic field to yield like a conventional one.
“It's difficult to generalize because every crop is different, but as a ballpark guess, it costs about 20 percent more to produce an organic crop,” he figured, noting that the biggest cost is fertilizer application. “You got to get the nitrogen down. You have to do it early and have plenty of it. There are other added costs but that’s the big one.” Rod’s Journey : He grew up on the Soledad ranch and always figured he would follow in the family footsteps. His father, Norman, went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but he did not want Rod to follow suit. “He told me he could teach me everything about farming; he wanted me to learn other things.” Rod went to St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., and earned his degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance. “I considered going to the East
SEPTEMBER | OCTOBER 2021
Western Grower & Shipper | www.wga.com
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