BUSINESS PROFILE: LaBrucherie helped set bar for food safety in crop production

Ricardo Canchola (left), LaBrucherie Produce’s food safety director, with company President J.P. LaBrucherie. COURTESY PHOTO

The LaBrucherie family began farming in the Imperial Valley in 1912 when Jean Pierre LaBrucherie started a dairy farm.

Jean Pierre and his wife Anne had emigrated from Aquitaine, France in the late 1800s to Los Angeles where Jean Pierre worked at Hauser Meat Packing before discovering the Imperial Valley. Jean Pierre continued with the dairy and in 1916 relocated from the Calexico area to the McCabe area.

Jean Pierre spent the rest of his life working in this area and shifted from dairy to farming crops. His son, Matt LaBrucherie, returned after college and worked with his father. Matt was a true entrepreneur, believing in the partnership model of doing business with great people and sharing success with his employees.

After Jean Pierre died in 1950, Matt began growing vegetables, a legacy that continues today, and built the McCabe Cattle Co. Matt and his partners then bought the feed yard in Heber and it was named El Toro Land & Cattle, a business that still operates today. In the 1980s Matt and his partners formed what is now El Toro Export, a commodity trading group focusing on hay, seed and grain. These businesses, along with Matt’s extensive investment of time, energy and perseverance in giving back to his community contributed immeasurably to advancing the agricultural economy of the Imperial Valley.

Tim LaBrucherie, Matt’s only son, returned to the farm after earning an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Southern California and a law degree from Stanford University. Both a CPA and an attorney, Tim was also instrumental in continuing the farming legacy with his father. Tim worked very hard not only on the business front, but also as a farmer himself. During Tim’s tenure, the industry evolved from the separated desert-period and Salinas-period growers, packers, and shippers of vegetables to what is today mainly contract growing in the desert region of vegetables for year-round shippers headquartered in the Salinas area.

When Matt passed away, Tim continued the farming legacy and in 2003 his son, J.P. LaBrucherie, returned home to the family business. J.P. also is a CPA and an attorney, attending USC for his accounting degree and University of Notre Dame for law school. Shortly after J.P. returned, both father and son decided to rename the farming company LaBrucherie Produce with more of a focus on growing vegetables.

Tim and J.P. faced different challenges and opportunities not seen before. In 2006, the industry changed forever when 199 people were infected from E. coli linked to fresh spinach grown on the central coast. Vegetable farming had a whole new focus with food safety. It transformed a lot of the day-to-day farming focus to ensure a safe, healthy crop was grown. Tim and J.P. were poised for the challenge and adjusted well to the new food safety focus. Now an entire department at the company is dedicated to food safety and often the focus of day-to-day decisions.

Ricardo Canchola leads the food safety department. Canchola is a native of the Mexicali Valley and a graduate of the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California with a degree in agricultural engineering. After graduation in 2005, he began to work for Primuslab. This company has seven locations, with three in Mexico, one in Florida, one in Yuma, Ariz., and two in California. Primuslab’s core business is focused on food safety and has for more than 30 years used the most current U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (and the Natural Organic Matter (NOM) approved methodologies.

Prior to joining LaBrucherie Produce in 2016, Canchola worked for the California Department of Food and Agriculture as an agriculture aide and for Foothill Packing Inc. in Yuma as their food and safety manager. Some of his responsibilities at LaBrucherie Produce include implementation and compliance of all aspects of food safety to the standards set by FDA, USDA, the Produce Safety Rule (PSR) as established by the U. S. Food Safety Modernization Act of 2016, both the California and Arizona Leafy Green Agreements (LGMA) and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). He is also responsible for the compliance to the Natural Organic Farmers Association.

“LaBrucherie Produce takes food safety very seriously,” Canchola said. “It starts with understanding the rules and guidelines, staying current with the always changing rules, training each employee who touches any aspect of the food chain supply, monitoring the crops --especially just before harvest and throughout the harvest process -- the water source assessments and finally, the documentation of the food safety. We are responsible for the audits conducted by Primus GFS, LGAM, PSR and the National Organic Program (NOP).It is a big and important job that keeps the consumers food as safe as possible.”

In 2014, following the family traditions of partnership and expansion, Tim and J.P. realized organic farming would be a big part of the future of farming and partnered with Ken and Brent Peterson to grow vegetables organically. They formed two new farming companies, Lantana Farms and Wisteria Farms to focus on organic vegetable production. Tim and J.P. converted almost all the family-owned ground to organic, and with their partners leased organic ground where they could find it, going as far away as Blythe and Aztec, Ariz., to meet the demands for organic crops.

Farming in outlying areas proved challenging as shippers didn’t desire to harvest so far away, so the partners formed a harvesting company to deliver harvested baby leaf items to the shippers for processing.

Today LaBrucherie’s farming businesses continue to prosper, growing conventional and organic crops like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, spring mix, kale, iceberg, romaine, carrots, onions, celery, corn and melons. They employ over 300 people in the peak season with an additional 300 employees through labor contractors.

Beyond just focusing on the farm, the family has been active in agricultural leadership. Matt served on Western Growers Board in the 1980s and was the Imperial County Farm Bureau President at one time. Matt also helped form the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association and the Stockmen’s Club in Brawley. Tim served on the Farm Credit Southwest board for more than 25 years, and currently serves as a board member of the Imperial County Farm Bureau. J.P. served as the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association president and currently serves on the board of Western Growers.

The successful farming practices and unique business philosophy that Matt LaBrucherie passed down remain in place: farming only excellent ground, rotating crops properly, walking fields each and every day, and making sure the success of the business is shared with employees. By following these principles and others, LaBrucherie’s farming operations have not only thrived but helped set high standards for safely grown food.

 

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