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Sunday, Mar 3, 2024

Farmer No Longer Sweating It

Now that things have cooled down – as much as they can in the pepper business – Craig Underwood is breathing a sigh of relief. The Camarillo family farmer, profiled in the Business Journal earlier this year, is the sole supplier of red jalapeños to Huy Fong Foods Inc., the maker of the popular Sriracha hot sauce. That gave him a huge stake in the outcome of the nine-month dispute between Huy Fong founder David Tran and Irwindale, where the company opened a factory. A few residents claimed pungent odors emanated from the $40 million plant, prompting the city to declare it a public nuisance and file a lawsuit. But the matter was resolved in late May after Tran installed new filters and Gov. Brown’s office mediated a solution. “We never really thought this would end with the plant being shut down,” said Underwood, 71, a fourth-generation owner of the copany, which began farming in Ventura County in 1867. “But it certainly was a distraction and we’re glad it’s behind us.” Last year, the peppers accounted for about 75 percent of Underwood Ranches LP’s $30 million revenue. In total, Underwood harvested some 100 million pounds of peppers grown on 1,700 acres in Ventura, Los Angeles and Kern counties. That’s a number set to grow this year to 2,000 acres, which are currently being planted. Underwood said he was never really too concerned of a life without Sriracha, even after there was talk Texas might try to poach the business. “California has the best growing conditions. It may not have the best business climate, but we can grow the peppers better and cheaper here,” he said. “It wouldn’t make sense to go anywhere else.” – Elliot Golan

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