'Harvesting Dollars': A Deep look into the Coachella Valley farming industry

A Deep look into the Coachella Valley farming industry

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif.- - The date as an agricultural staple has roots in the Coachella Valley dating back over a century. But the sweet fruit hasn't spoiled on the valley quite yet; in fact, it still dominates the region's economy. 

It looks idyllic, the Eastern Coachella Valley is dotted with date groves, some that date back to the origin of the industry at the beginning of the last century. Date palms, imported from the Middle East, discovered a welcoming home in the valley and provided needed jobs and income. They still do.

"A typical crop year, we produce about 30,000 tons here in the valley. There is some production down by Yuma and a little bit towards Blythe. I would say there's a total of about 75 million pounds of dates between those three regions, and the Coachella Valley is by far the largest," said Albert Keck, a date grower.

The labor force needed to produce this specialty crop needs to be highly skilled.

"It takes six different trips up the tree to produce the crop, starting with pruning then pollination, then thinning. Through the summer we bag then we harvest so it pretty much employs them year 'round," Keck said.

From the date groves to the growing field of the eastern Coachella Valley, many fields will soon be planted with red bell peppers and there are a lot of different crops that grow here.

"Artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, all the lettuces and some unique crops like fennel, and also a lot of carrots," said Davidi Compton, the Director of Operations for Prime Time International, the largest year-round grower, packer and shipper of multi-colored peppers in the United States.

Those are just the winter crops, for row crop farmers, the Spring season is actually the most productive and important.

"The two majority crops nowadays in the Coachella Valley are bell peppers and sweet corn, in addition, we have some watermelons, some tomatoes, a little bit of chili peppers, a little bit of eggplant," Compton said.

According to Compton, the crops will be shipped out all over the United States and Canada.

"During the time that we produce, remember there is a window, and a fairly small one, this is the area that produces most of the fresh produce that is distributed throughout the United States and Canada," Compton said.

It is our supply of high-quality water, and skilled labor, that allows the Coachella Valley to feed the nation. 

"After tourism, farming and the ag(riculture) business is the second largest business in the Coachella Valley," Compton said.

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