The fruits and vegetables we use in our products are grown on farms that collectively span thousands of acres of land.
Although we do not own any of these farms, we help our growers implement advanced agricultural practices to reduce the amount of water, fertilizer, and pesticide needed to grow healthy and productive crops. We provide support through programs that are integrated from initial research through to the final product.
We interact with our growers in several ways. We provide growers with seeds for certain crops, including peas; Blue Lake, Romano, and wax beans; corn; spinach; carrots; and beets. Seeds produced by our research and development teams are bred naturally, with no genetic engineering. We carefully select those plants that exhibit desirable traits to produce stronger crops.
Seeds for the peas, beans, corn, and spinach are ones that originate from varieties that we have bred to exhibit beneficial characteristics such as high yield, hardiness, and pest-resistance. We produce seeds for pea and bean crops through our Del Monte Seed Operations.
Del Monte plants hold annual meetings with their growers. These gatherings focus on a wide range of issues, from the introduction of new crop varieties to concerns related to water use and irrigation. Meetings also provide growers with the opportunity to share best practices and review with us our standard Company procedures with regard to pest management.
Our growers apply fertilizer to crops to ensure that the plants receive enough nutrients to grow vigorously and produce abundant yields. Too much fertilizer, however, can be worse than not enough: in many crops, excess nutrients can lead to lush vegetative growth and reduced crop yields. Fertilizers can also leach into groundwater, or wash off with the rain into nearby waterways, entering polluting streams and causing problems such as algae growth. Finally, synthetic fertilizers are often based on petroleum—an expensive and non-renewable resource.
Given the environmental risks and operating costs associated with improper or excessive fertilizer use, our research teams coordinate with our growers to identify the optimal amount of fertilizer per crop. We’ve found that some crops need much less fertilizer to flourish than expected. For example, over the past several years, our pea and green bean growers have reduced fertilizer application by upwards of 25 percent over 50,000 acres. Although rising fertilizer costs contributed to this decision, Del Monte research also showed the crops would do as well or better with less fertilizer.
Our expert plant breeders and research farm staff work in tandem with our growers to introduce new crop varieties with improved yields. The benefits are significant: for example, a 30 percent increase in yield means that 30 percent less acreage needs to be planted and 30 percent fewer inputs such as fertilizer or fuel for farm equipment are needed to harvest the same amount of crop.. Over the past 48 years, our Blue Lake green bean breeding program and new growing practices have increased yields by nearly 200 percent.
Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a common-sense approach to pest control. Instead of routinely applying pesticides on a set schedule, growers closely monitor crop conditions and use cultural tools (such as crop rotation or seeds that are disease resistant) to help avoid situations that could contribute to pest outbreaks.
In situations where there is a pest or disease problem, IPM dictates that the least-toxic solutions be applied first. The safest and most effective strategies are based on a thorough understanding of the biology of target pest organisms (and the other insects and animals present in the same environment). This information dictates what steps growers can take, from physically removing pests from individual plants, to selectively disrupting the mating instincts of pest species by using pheromone applications. Another lower-risk option includes targeted spraying of affected areas with synthetic pesticides. Broadcast spraying is reserved as an option of last resort.
In 2007, Del Montes own Dr. Brian Flood co-edited the definitive text on IPM in Midwest vegetables titled Vegetable Insect Management. In this volume, Brian provides comprehensive detail on the IPM programs he has pioneered over his past three decades of work at Del Monte. The principles outlined in the book apply to both disease and weed pests and serve as a constant reference for our pest management team.
The Karner blue butterfly is a threatened species in Wisconsin. It relies exclusively on wild lupine as its food source. Unfortunately, lupine is a prairie wildflower whose range has declined precipitously as agriculture has expanded into prairie lands. Del Monte partnered with the Wisconsin State Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection over a five-year period to grow lupine at the Company's research farm in Plover, Wisconsin. We distributed seeds from the lupine to volunteers for planting to spread the distribution of this native wildflower and support the resurgence of the Karner blue in its natural range. Read more about the Karner blue butterfly and habitat restoration efforts at: http://dnr.wi.gov/