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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023


By WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter Thousands of acres of farmland that had gone fallow for years in the Antelope Valley are coming back to life as vegetable farmers step up planting. Acreage devoted to dry onions, carrots and table greens grew by a third in L.A. County from 1996 to 1997, and agricultural officials expect 1998 to be a banner year. “Agriculture is flourishing more than it has in a long time,” said Gary Mork, Antelope Valley district inspector for the county’s Agriculture Commissioner/ Weights and Measures Department. “Farms that have been here a long time are expanding, but we’re seeing farming companies from outside the area come in to use the land.” Bakersfield-based Grimmway Farms, which grows carrots in Central California, Colorado and Nevada, began farming 2,000 acres of carrots this year in the Antelope Valley, said David Rizzo, farm manager for Grimmway’s Antelope Valley division. The company had been contracting with independent farmers in the area to grow carrots since 1995, but decided to lease land itself this year and run its own farming operations. “(Grimmway) is resurrecting ground that has not been used in a long time and revitalizing long unused water pumps,” Rizzo said. In 1997, there were a total of 3,811 acres of carrots farmed in the county, while in 1996 there were 2,324 acres, according to the Agricultural Commissioner’s annual Crop Report. Another company that has been increasing its carrot growing in the area is Lamont-based Boulthouse Farms. “Sales increases for carrots mean we need more acreage, and the Antelope Valley has good soil and a lot of space,” said Rob Huckaby, the company’s general farm manager for the Antelope Valley. There also will be increases in dry onion farming, according to John Calandri, an onion farmer owner of John Calandri Farms since 1944. Calandri, who has raised a steady 1,000 acres a year of onions in the Antelope Valley for several years, has seen at least three other companies begin growing the brown, white and red onions he raises. “They’ve probably increased onions up by more than a half in the past few years, and it’s still going up this year,” Calandri said. There were 1,932 acres of dry onions grown in 1997 compared to 1,523.5 acres in 1996, according to Crop Report figures. The farming companies also grew substantially more vine crops, root vegetables and other crops in 1997 compared to 1996, according to the Crop Report. Rizzo, a third-generation Antelope Valley farmer, explained that thousands of acres of the Valley were used as alfalfa farmland for much of the century. But farming decreased sharply in the 1960s and 1970s. The crop needs a great deal of watering, and the area’s supply was overused and eventually became scarce, he said. This meant it became too expensive to grow alfalfa in the Antelope Valley, and many farmers left the area. Rizzo said that the area’s water table has had time to replenish itself, and that crops like carrots and onions need about half the water needed by alfalfa. Nowadays, the former alfalfa land is owned by private parties, companies and the city of Los Angeles, which leases out some of the unused land that belongs to the now-dormant Palmdale Airport.

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