San Benito County is the apple of Martinelli’s eye

A worker prepares apples that have been harvested to be shipped. Anthony Botelho and his partner Ken Perry supply 6,500 tons of apples to Martinelli’s each year for juice.

Watsonville juice maker seeks local orchard land for apple production
Watsonville juice maker seeks local orchard land for apple production

Faced with a conversion of apple orchards to berry farms in the Pajaro Valley, the president of apple juice producer S. Martinelli & Sons said he is looking to plant orchards in San Benito County, where land is less expensive.

John Martinelli, who was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment, revealed the expansion plans during a recent visit by elected officials and business leaders to his Watsonville plant.

He said he was looking to San Benito, where approximately 225 acres of apple orchards currently supply fruit for the juice maker, to ensure a supply of the fresh apples that are a key ingredient in the company’s juices and sparkling cider.

Ron Ross, San Benito County’s agricultural commissioner, said roughly 350 acres of apples in total are grown locally – a decline since the peak 20 years ago.

“Twenty or 30 years ago there were quite a bit more orchards in San Benito County,” he said. “Things will cycle through. It could be that in the next few years there could be a change. It depends on consumer taste and developing markets.”

Anthony Botelho, who along with partner Ken Perry supplies apples to Martinelli’s from orchards in the San Juan Valley, said local land “is ideal for fruit growing, whether it’s apples or apricots or in the old days prunes and pears. The fact is, the soil is great for it and the weather is ideal.”

Botelho said he understands why Martinelli would want to expand the land on which apples grow locally.

“A number of the growers that supply Martinelli’s are getting older and retiring and the families aren’t continuing the business,” he said. “They’re leasing out the ground which is converted to berries and other row crops. They see more orchards going out than going in.”

Planting new orchards requires patience on behalf of growers and the companies to which their product is sent.

“The trick is, if you have open ground, you have to wait four or five years to have the crop come in,” Botelho said. “That’s quite a while for a lot of people. All the land I have is in apples.”

Botelho said he sells approximately 6,500 tons of Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious and Newtown Pippin apples to Martinelli’s each year.

“They’ll take everything we can produce,” he said, which shows that the demand for the product is there.

In addition to the expanded acreage, Martinelli also plans to open a fifth bottling line next year. The company has a new pomegranate-juice blend in the works, and sales are increasing thanks to a new marketing effort at Kroeger stores.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel contributed to this report.

Leave your comments