What attracted you to join Lundberg Family Farms and what is the current footprint of the company?
While working at Clorox as the president of Burt's Bees, I deeply enjoyed the sustainable and socially responsible side of the business. As I looked at this opportunity with Lundberg Family Farms, I saw a lot of parallels to being purpose based. I was recruited as the first non-family member CEO and this position has met every expectation around the values and principles that I envisioned coming in.
The Lundberg brothers were pioneers of the organic rice movement back in the 1960s and to this day, the family aspires to—in the words of founder Albert Lundberg—leave the land better than they found it.
Today, we grow 17 varieties of rice, which we use in packaged products, rice cakes or semi-prepared dishes. Organic rice makes up the majority of our business. Our footprint is North American centric, with over 95% of the business being located here, but we are also exporting to Japan and Europe (primarily Switzerland).
Issues like climate change have been affecting agriculture across the board. How have these challenges been evolving in the last few years and how are you handling them?
During the past three years, there has been a deep drought cycle here in California. Under normal conditions, the rice industry can plant roughly half a million acres, but last year it reached only 250,000 acres. Luckily, our farms benefit from a much healthier water situation, so we were able to meet consumer demand. So far this year, we have had a record amount of rainfall and snow, so we expect to have a bountiful crop in 2023, but, due to climate change, we do not know if these patterns are to repeat themselves in the years to come.
At Lundberg, we believe we have been farming regeneratively for generations. Because of that, we’ve prioritized the health of the soil, and healthy soil can be more resilient in the face of climate change than soil that has been degraded by conventional farming practices.
Supply chains have been heavily impaired by the pandemic and then by the war in Ukraine. How has Lundberg Family Farms perceived these hardships?
Other than the pantry loading that happened in 2020, where demand shot up, we have been insulated from a lot of the supply chain shocks of the pandemic. Our biggest challenges have been caused by the macro level impact that rippled through. Truck availability has been more challenging in the post-COVID era, materials suppliers seemed less responsive to our needs and the infrastructure (mills, drying and storage facilities, pilots, etc.) that services the industry has sometimes suffered shortages.
What new technologies are being adopted on your farms at the moment?
Using new tools to support regenerative organic agricultural practices is in our DNA. We use GPS guided tractors and automatic levelers to prepare the fields for planting. We are also experimenting with precision application of fertilizers and soil mapping, obtaining a more even distribution of inputs and better yields out of the field.
What near future objectives are you pursuing in your relatively new role as CEO?
Growing awareness around regenerative organic farming practices will be one of our top priorities in the coming years. We believe the future of the planet will depend on it, and we are committed to helping both consumers and farmers better understand the benefits and best practices of regenerative organic farming.
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