USDA Funding Helps Cushion Cost of Sun-Maid's Technology Exploration
Posted on 03/29/2016 at 01:39 PM by Shannon Hoyle
Sun-Maid Growers of California, a 700-member grower-owned cooperative in Kingsburg, Calif., was one of the early successful applicants in the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The two grants it received in 2004 and 2005 assisted in exploring new technologies that might be beneficial to the cooperative’s packing plant operations and to grower returns.
“We are always looking at how new technologies can make a difference. The VAPG grants helped us cushion the costs of studying options and equipment needed for implementing radio frequency identification (RFID) into our operations,” said Barry Kriebel, president of Sun-Maid Growers. The project was in direct response to demands by several major retail customers to embark on the path toward incorporating RFID.
Both grants targeted finding the most effective means to meet the RFID demand so that the cooperative could continue to supply to these large customers. The first grant was to study feasibility, and the second, to implement through adoption of high end software.
“As often is the case, new technologies can be superseded. They don’t always come into play,” Kriebel said. But he noted that the VAPG program plays a key role in enabling companies to find out what will work for them so they stay on top of new technologies that might help maintain profitable customer relationships.
For more than a century, Sun-Maid Growers has consistently been a recognized leader in introducing new technologies into raisin growing practices and the handling of the raisin product. The company has worked closely with the USDA, private research firms and major universities to test and put into practice innovations related to new trellising systems, irrigation systems, the development of new grape varieties that improve yields and to introduce mechanization in harvesting.
It has also provided leadership in the raisin and dried fruit industries to combat pests, increase environmental sustainability, decrease reliance on hand field labor and increase yields. In large part due to the cooperative’s efforts to improve yields in many of these ways, what once was a good crop of 2 dry tons per acre has become a harvest of 4-5 dry tons per acre.
Sun-Maid® and the Sun-Maid Girl® are among the most recognized American brands of the last century.
“We like to partner with the USDA and others to find new ways to increase production and make handling more efficient,” said Kriebel.
The VAPG program has been in existence for more than 15 years under the umbrella of USDA Rural Development (http://www.rd.usda.gov/ ). Applicants from nearly every state have found the program helpful in adopting technologies, expanding visions and bringing new products to market. Grant funding cycles are periodic, often annual. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated by various means from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers. Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agriculture producer groups and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations may apply. In prior cycles, grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing, business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects.