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A marquee firm? Give me Simplot any day over Facebook or Apple

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POSTED August 30, 2012 1:10 a.m.

Facebook, Apple and the likes of Intel and Oracle are firms that many of us fawn over.

In reality, they aren’t the key to a modern, fulfilling life. The companies that earn that distinction are Simplot, Millard Refrigeration, and Eckert’s Cold Storage.

Certainly I jest. How can a fertilizer firm, a cold storage company, and a food processor trump the creations of billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Larry Ellison?

The answer is really simple.

Without the Simplot et al few would possess the disposable income to buy smartphones to access Facebook, obtain iPads, or purchase a myriad of products with “Intel Inside.”

Plentiful and inexpensive food is what fueled the Age of the Consumer.

Back in 1930, the typical American household spent 24.2  percent of its income on food based on United States Department of Agriculture statistics. By 2008, the typical American household was spending less than 9.4  percent of overall income on food whether it is fresh, packaged, frozen or prepared for us at a restaurant.

There are a lot of innovations that made that possible: The tractor by Benjamin Holt who once labored in Stockton, massive irrigation systems, and plant science research.

But perhaps the biggest innovations have been nitrate fertilizers and the ability to preserve freshness through prolonged cold storage.

Nitrate fertilizers have made weak soil fertile and therefore significantly more productive. Add agricultural technology and less people are producing more food than ever before.

Back in the late 18th century, as economist Milton Friedman noted, 19 out of every 20 workers were growing food to feed Americans and for exports. Some 200 years later only 1 of 20 Americans were involved in food production but were feeding much more people and had turned the United States to the largest food exporter on earth.

Thanks in large part to the Agricultural Revolution, the planet went from 800 million people in 1750 to 1.3 billion by 1850 and to over 6 billion today.

Better health practices and clean water have helped but the ability to produce massive amounts of food relatively inexpensively is arguably the crucial development.

J.R. Simplot - the man that founded Simplot - created a real product that has helped change the life of billions. Zuckerberg who half the world seems to idolize produces no product you can touch, feel, or consume as Facebook is simply a way of communicating with friends. Nothing wrong with that, but none of that would matter if we didn’t have enough food to eat.

Cold storage has essentially made food available year-round. Walk into the cavernous units at Millard Refrigeration on Spreckels Avenue in Manteca and you will see a wide array of food from turkeys to ice cream. Scientific research for each food product has determined the temperature they are kept frozen at to preserve as much freshness as possible.

Fresh produce may be best but it is seasonal. Not only did nitrate fertilizer make fruit and meat produced by animals fed by grains more plentiful, but also more affordable.

Without nitrate fertilizers we’d be eating primarily cereal grains and root crops.

It’s ironic when you Google “organic food” you’ll find an endless number of sites essentially dumping on modern food production.

Organic food production can’t begin to feed the world.

And without modern food production, it is doubtful they’d be many people with the resources to purchase the latest high tech gadget as a chunk of their income that most people spend on housing today would go instead to keep their stomachs full.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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