Fruit-breeder IFG breaks ground on $12 million campus near McFarland
Even for a company with customers and employees spread across 15 countries, it felt a little clunky shuttling between greenhouses in Edison, laboratory space near Delano, a cold-storage facility in Shafter and headquarters in Bakersfield.
That sort of decentralized operating model will be drawing to a close after fruit-breeder IFG launched construction Tuesday of a 160-acre facility west of McFarland that will provide room for everything from research and administration to licensee-training and consumer taste-testing. “These are critical things,” project manager Tom Bracken said following an early-afternoon toast to the groundbreaking on a mostly empty lot surrounded by commercial orchards. “To be able to have it all in one space is obviously much more effective.”
The name intentionally avoids the word “innovation,” which Higgins said seems overused these days. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of innovating going on at a site planned to include 28,000 square feet of lab and support buildings plus 25,000 square feet of greenhouses. Already experimentation is apparent with hundreds of cherry saplings taking root at the site. Using only traditional hybridization techniques, as opposed to genetic modification procedures viewed with skepticism by many consumers, the company has incorporated the DNA of Taiwanese cherries selected for their ability to grow in climates where cold weather is in short supply.
Company founder, shareholder and board member Jack Pandol Jr. told Tuesday’s crowd the saplings will lead to delicious, firm fruit that within five to 10 years will allow Kern County growers to produce cherries even if the preceding winter didn’t offer the minimum number of “chill hours” most cherry trees historically require.