North Coast agriculture finding its own niche

– by Ann JohnsonStromberg/ The TimesStandard
Article Launched: 04/08/2007 04:30:32 AM PDT

It only takes a quick glance around the lush landscape of Humboldt County to determine that the
climate and pasturelands of the coastline has created an environment predisposed for agricultural

According to the 2007 State of the Industry report, that success translates into big money and a large percentage of the local economy. The 2005 Humboldt County crop and livestock report estimated that timber production, nursery stock, milk products, livestock, and field and food crops brought more than $711 million into the community that year. One of the drivers is the organic and natural foods movement. The products have infiltrated nearly every grocery store in the country and all signs point toward continuing the trend. The North Coast Coop is one the local grocer banking on it.

Karen Brooks, Coop marketing director, said the Coop belongs to a network of 250 similar businesses throughout the country. ”Our two stores, with 11,000 members, have the greatest purchasing power of coop’s nationwide,” she said, explaining that in a small community like Humboldt County, this accomplishment is a testament to the importance the residents place on buying local. One service the more difficult feat in a larger community. Brooks said that when they see a need, the company has also been known to facilitate the creation of new local products.

Fifteen years ago, a need for grassfed beef inspired the Coop to encourage area producers to consider the investment. It has taken years to develop a consistent following, but because of the climate and pasture capacity due to a lack of urban sprawl Humboldt is better positioned to capitalize and create a niche market than almost anywhere else in the country.

Current grassfed guidelines require that livestock be grassfed their entire lives, with a few exceptions. Grass grows in Humboldt year around, with few large storms or cold spells. Today, established companies like Humboldt Grass Fed Beef and Eel River Organic Beef are even branching out and selling in other communities, essentially branding Humboldt County as a producer of highend beef products. While the new consumerled cry for specialty meats is growing, higher prices and specific environmental necessities are often too prohibitive to supplant conventional feedlots with organic and grassfed meats. The switch to specialty meats is appealing because of the premium farmers can bring home, but the process is more expensive and requires more productive pastureland.

The potential for future growth in specialty agriculture is substantial, but there are infrastructure
roadblocks that can’t be ignored. The Sun Valley Group has been heading the pack of area floriculture producers, and transportation concerns have been growing along with their sales. Sun Valley currently employs around 450 “team members” in Arcata and 180 at a facility in Oxnard, Calif. Some of clients the
Sun Valley serves include, Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Kroger
stores. Sun Valley CEO Lane DeVries said that the company’s success is partially due to its philosophy
of never resting on past accomplishments and fueling a constant interest in being more competitive and efficient. One impediment to future growth DeVries foresees is the continuation of shouldering high trucking expenses in order to get Sun Valley bulbs and flowers to distributors.

”Costs of doing business in the United States is increasing, which is making more and more difficult for flower growers,” he said. “Operating on the North Coast, the truck length restriction is a pretty import piece to competing in the future.” Today and the next eight Sundays, the Times Standard
is publishing special sections spotlighting 2007 State of the Industry reports prepared by Prosperity! The North Coast Strategy for Economic Development. In addition to today’s focus on specialty Agriculture, the industries profiled will be dairy, fisheries, education/research, information technology, forest products, arts
and culture, tourism and niche manufacturing.
# # #