Vessey and Company operates as a grower, packer, shipper that grows both organically and conventionally. The majority of the 12,000 acres under management are devoted to spinach, spring mix, romaine, broccoli, cauliflower, iceberg and leaf lettuce. In order to mitigate some of the risks associated with farming, Vessey & Company has about ten joint venture agreements with marketing companies. Generally, the ranch is responsible for growing, while the joint venture partner handles harvesting, marketing, and selling to consumers.
In addition to mitigating risks through joint venture agreements, Jack Vessey, the owner of Vessey & Company, also credits Bartt Ries, the ranch manager, with taking a proactive, data-driven approach to ranch management. Bartt often starts to plan their planting schedule and crop rotations over a year in advance. When determining what crop to plant in order to fulfill the joint venture agreements, Bartt considers soil texture, fertility, season, and historical data, among other factors. Bartt is always trying to mitigate the risk of disease because it puts crops and profits at risk. Jack first heard about Trace Genomics during a presentation at Western Growers. To start, he and Bartt decided to baseline over half of the total acres. When selecting fields to sample, Bartt focused on areas that he suspected would have relatively healthy soils with low pathogen risk, as well as fields he believed might have disease.
“Now that I have baseline fertility information for my fields, I can go back to the reports and reference them when I’m deciding what to plant.” -Bartt Ries, Ranch Manager
In Jack’s opinion, he has seen more disease issues in the last ten years than he did in the previous twenty. Bartt pointed to challenges like disease hot spots, which were previously impossible to predict, and not knowing how much moving equipment from field to field contributes to the spread of disease. “Trace Genomics works as a guide that keeps us in check. Last season, we had a hunch that some fields had pathogens, and the results confirmed that it was true,” Bartt said. The biggest benefit of Trace’s analysis, however, was in the surprises. There was one field in particular that Bartt suspected had rhizoctonia and fusarium. He had planned to avoid planting mixed leaf lettuce, but when the Trace Genomics results indicated that pathogen levels were low, Bartt was able to plant lettuce with confidence. “I was able to make a more informed decision and better weigh the risks. The lettuce was beautiful and had minimal disease. It was the right choice.” In a different field, where pathogen levels were high, Bartt decided to rotate to broccoli. “Now that I have baseline fertility information for my fields, I can go back to the reports and reference them when I’m deciding what to plant,” he said.
The value of that predictive capability goes beyond planning crop rotations and purchasing products. For upcoming years, Jack and Bartt plan to use Trace Genomics’ technology to identify soil health and pathogenic indicators for newly purchased or leased fields so they can proactively manage the soil. “Like all good farmers, we’re looking at and treating our soil, because without our soil, we’re not going to be here,” said Jack.
Pictured: Bartt Ries, Ranch Manager & Jack Vessey, Owner
Jack’s focus is on his return on investment. “With Trace, it’s really about the cost benefit analysis,” he said. “You’re going to make an investment up front, but it’s critical for us to make sure we’re doing a better job. If we can make better, more profitable decisions based on the results, then the test pays for itself.”
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