Califonia Bountiful

Desert Undercover Operation finds its niche

Davidi Compton encouraged fellow growers to try bell peppers in greenhouses.

The times are fast changing in the Coachella Valley. This 45-mile long portion of Riverside County has long been an important farm region, although the relentless pace of urbanization is almost impossible to miss.

Farmers have different ways to cope with the crops-to-condos shift. For Davidi Compton, it was a golden opportunity to try an efficient farming method perfected in his home country, Israel.

Compton encouraged fellow growers at Prime Time International to try growing red, yellow and orange bell peppers in greenhouses to produce a high-quality, highly valued commodity during the winter and early spring.

"They were a little skeptical about being able to do this," Compton said. "It took some hard talking and conducting a trial on our existing open-field pepper crop. What we did was an eye opener."

From the initial test, which Compton called a "Mickey Mouse operation," a solid niche has formed for Compton's and Prime Time's business, Tri Color Farms.

The greenhouse and meshhouse bell peppers incorporate 41 acres and some 100,000 plants, producing 40 to 48 tons per acre of fruit that looks like it belongs on Martha Stewart's table.

The greenhouses are marvels of innovation. Water and fertilizers are applied through computer programs. Thanks to the controlled growing environment, pest problems are a fraction of those for an outdoor crop. The end result: plants two to four times more productive than field-grown peppers.

The peppers grown under cover have a natural shine, sweetness and thick wall that bring delight, both to customers and the man who proposed and designed this innovative growing style in California.

"It was very good feeling," he said. "You bring something that is new, that others are not doing, that some people tried to do and were not very successful, and here we are standing in a greenhouse in its seventh season and things are growing, looking good and expanding."

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