Merced Sun Star March 7, 1928
Big Tomato Acreage In Merced This Year
By Peter McClung
Twenty years ago, when J. C. Cocanour, widely known commission merchant,
began buying tomatoes from the growers of Merced, the acreage was limited to
such small patches that he made the rounds in a day, riding a bicycle over
dirt roads. There was no paved road here at that time. Now he finds it
necessary to put in a full day on the job, while driving an automobile over
That shows the expansion of the tomato industry. The tomato crop has been a
valuable asset to the city of Merced for many years, he told me yesterday,
surveying the principal tomato districts. Buyer and shipper of various truck
and orchard crops, Mr. Cocanour has kept in close touch with farm production
and development. He was born in Merced 45 years ago, when life was largely in
the primitive, and has seen the great transformation of wheat fields and grass
lands to the present state of extensive production in marvelous crop
“When I first started to buy farm products you could drive to Livingston and
see nothing but grain fields or desert land along the road and the same was
true as to almost any other route,” Mr. Cocanour said.
Merced tomatoes lead all others in both quality and yield, partly because of
excellence in variety, but mainly because of superior cultural practice common
to this section alone.
The growers here are Italian, who follow the painstaking, efficient methods
of intensive farming on the small plots of Italy.
“They raise 8000 plants on a single acre,” Mr. Cocanour said. “That is about
three times as many as are grown in other localities. The plants are staked
and carefully suckered and cultivated. The results are superior tomatoes, and
a longer bearing season, producing three full crops. Some of the vines keep
right on bearing after maturing the first crop in the latter part of May or
the first of June, until the frost kills them in the fall. Keeping the vines
off the ground makes for rapid growth and uniformity in the size and color of
“The popular variety here is shipped when it looks to be green, but is really
ripe, and develops a deep rich red in transit or soon after reaching its
destination. This is known as the “Merced”, or “Early Stone” tomato. Another
variety, the Jap Stone, is about as good, but ripens two weeks later.”
$1200 An Acre
“I have known growers to harvest $1200. worth of tomatoes to the acre. As
raised here, tomatoes always pay and it is a good sign for a successful crop
year that the tomato acreage will be double that of 1927, which brought in
more than a quarter of a million dollars.”
“One good thing about the tomato crop is that returns begin to come in early,
with onions and squashes, from May 20 to June 1, at a time of year when
farmers mostly need a little ready cash.”
“The Merced crop of tomatoes is the earliest in California, outside of the
Imperial Valley, so the grower gets the advantage of the highest prices.
Vines planted a week from now will supply carloads by the first of June.
Concerning early maturity, as much may be said for squashes and onions, each
with a probable acreage three times larger than last year’s.”
Bear Creek Land
The most important tomato production now, as in the early days, is on lands
lying along Bear Creek at north side of town. The Franklin district and
British Colony also have been heavy producers. Considerable new acreage will
be brought in this year at Lingard, south of Merced and El Nido, to the west,
according to Mr. Cocanour.
Farmers complain about prices and with good reason concerning most crops, but
Mr. Cocanour tells of buying sweet potatoes, then a most important product at
50 cents a sack, half a cent a pound, which looks cheap as compared to the
present price, 4 ½ cents. It is gratifying to note in this connection that
there is a carryover of sweets here sufficient to load out a car occasionally
from the farmers’ pits.
Through a large packinghouse, built by Mr. Cocanour three years ago, on the
state highway at Sixteenth street, he expects to ship this year $300,000.
worth of tomatoes alone, as his share of the total production.
The house has a capacity of loading out eight to ten cars and employs up to
40 packers at the peak of the busy season. All shipments of tomatoes from the
Cocanour house bear an attractive color label on the box advertising the
contents as “World Famous Merced Tomatoes.”
Engaged in shipping produce here besides Mr. Cocanour are T. A. Griffin and
Lehy & Hanna, the Pacific Fruit Produce Company and Paris Federicia.
In passing, I would suggest that men like Mr. Cocanour are the true
constructive pioneers. Those who have spent all their life in a growing
community and kept pace with developments may be depended on to point the way
to greater progress.