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High Tech: For Computer Geeks and Farmers Alike

When you look at Ray Ratto from Ratto Brothers Farms, and IR-4 Commodity Liaison Committee member, you see a well tanned man who knows his way around an ag field. But what you don't see is the technology involved in producing successful produce for the American Family. Ratto Bros. Greens Farm, located in Turlock, CA grows, kale, radicchio, butter lettuce, mustard greens, cabbage (red and green), baby bok choi, celery root, watermelon, leeks and other edible crops. Their produce is delivered to chain stores and terminal markets throughout the United States.

The nine Ratto Bros. ranches comprise 1,000 acres where Ray grows as many as three or four crops a year on each acre. The most remarkable thing about this is that Ray knows exactly what crop is being grown, where it is being grown, when it was planted, the pest management application dates and formulations, the projected harvest date and where it was sold.He keeps track of this on a computer program that he had a hand in developing, and has a "hard copy" of the data in blue notebooks in his truck. He also maintains the data for many years after harvest in his office.

Ray began keeping track of his 2000 yearly site IDs, as required by California Department Pesticide Regulation (CDPR), in 1994 using an Off The Shelf (OTS) program but he redesigned the data into a Visual Basic Planning program when the OTS program became limited in its ability to manage the data. But the technology doesn't end here.

Getting out of the truck and walking into a huge garage type area, you notice 2 vast stainless steel machines, a Hydro-Cooler and a new one million dollar Hydro-Vac system that is being set up. That is when Ray begins talking about atmospheric pressure and the need to take the Hydro-Vac system at 3.7 torrs of vacuum. Ray purchased the new Hydro-Vac system to keep up with his competition. The system cools the harvested produce as soon as it is harvested. Ray explained,"With a Hydro-cooler, you won't get the vegetables in the middle of the pallet cooled; the Hydro-Vac can. When you harvest the vegetables, you must cool them right away because every hour you lose in cooling is equivalent to a day's loss of post harvest shelf life. Then they must be stored in a temperature controlled environment until they are shipped. "After harvest is where Ratto Bros. is different, because they complete the cooling and storing process all in one location. But the technology doesn't end there either.

A computerized equipment scheduler is located in a backroom off the storage area.The computer system, which Ray monitors, automatically diverts power from one area of the farm to another when needed. A computer screen displays a schematic of the power inputs and diversions. But the technology doesn't end here.

A visit to the upstairs office completes the technology cycle. Ray's brother, David and cousin Frank sit at computer terminals wearing headsets as they speak to their customers and scan their sales. They are also responsible for providing the human resource services for the 200-350 people employed at Ratto Bros. Ray explains that this really is the control center of the operation and praises their efforts.

When Ray went to college for Ag Management, he never dreamed he'd become a computer geek. But learning and staying abreast of new technology has helped him grow the business and stay competitive and successful.


Reprinted from The IR-4 Project Newsletter, vol. 36 no. 2, April 2005