Mixon Family Farm Builds Burgeoning Berry Business

Burgeoning Berry Business
The decision to venture into blueberries was quite a drastic departure for the Mixons, who for the last six decades owned and operated Haines City Electric. Although Gerald Mixon had been a part-time citrus grower since the late 1970s, the family had no experience raising blueberries. So they did their homework and started on a small scale. Blueberry growers in Gainesville graciously helped the Mixons learn the business.

Things are dramatically different today. Gerald Mixon is retired from the family business, and his three sons — Jerry, Keith, and Greg — are overseeing what has exponentially expanded to a 1,125-acre operation with farms in three states and Mexico. While blueberries remain the dominant crop (70% of sales), blackberries account for 20% of receipts and raspberries 10%.

Greg attributes the success of the business to a strong vision and commitment to excellence from his father.

Keith says, “Having the courage to move quickly and focusing on what our growers and customers needed helped us get to where we are today.�

“We’ve experienced continual growth over the last 10 years — some years we expanded by 40 acres, other years it was 200 acres,� adds Jerry.

Marketing Minded

In addition to owning more than 1,100 berry acres, the Mixons have established a marketing company and brand, called SunnyRidge Farm Inc., to sell its fruit.

Mixon Family Farm

Owners: Keith, Greg, and Jerry Mixon

Locations: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Mexico

Year Founded: 1993

Main Crops: Blueberries, blackberries,
and raspberries

Acres in Production: 1,125

Number of Employees: 65

Customers: Large retailers, club stores, food service, and wholesale

Region Served: Worldwide

Member of: Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, Florida Farm Bureau, etc.

Company Philosophy: A family of innovative growers reliably supplying healthy, great-tasting berries every day.

University of Florida (UF) blueberry expert Dr. Paul Lyrene says the Mixon family has been innovative in marketing. “They started by marketing their own berries, expanded to market berries from other blueberry growers in the area, and kept growing to become year-round suppliers of blueberries and blackberries, sourcing the berries from many locations in both North and South America to provide a year-round supply for their buyers.�

SunnyRidge — which includes all of Mixon Family Farms as well as more than 125 independent growers in Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, California, British Columbia, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, and Mexico — markets more than 40 million pounds of berries per year. The amount of SunnyRidge berries shipped has more than doubled in the past three years.

“Our goal is to produce at least 10% on our own farms, and we are currently exceeding that goal,� says Keith.

Ken Patterson, partner and general manager at Island Grove Ag Products, was one of the first growers to sign on with SunnyRidge. “We got to know the family and liked that they were new blood in the industry with a vision and a marketing strategy,� says Patterson. “They’re very sincere, and I’m proud to be associated with them.� Being a SunnyRidge contract grower has served his company well, leading to increased blueberry acreage.

All SunnyRidge growers must be GLOBALGAP certified (see page 24 of Jan. 2008 Florida Grower for more on GLOBALGAP) to ensure that high standards in farm management, harvesting, packing, and postharvest field-cooling are met.

“GLOBALGAP differentiates our brand in the world market,� says Keith. “It gives our buyers comfort that our growers have committed to food safety and safe handling practices.�

“Fresh From Florida is also a way we differentiate ourselves in the global market,� says Greg.

Working With Universities

Marketing is not the only area in which the Mixons excel. In the field, they have proven to be leading innovators in the blueberry industry.
“They were first to plant a large blueberry acreage on deep, sandy hills,� says Lyrene. “This required that they work out a system for building and maintaining beds of pine bark and discovering how to grow the crop in such beds. Blueberries are typically grown on acidic, wet land — not on the Florida sand ridges.�

SunnyRidge has research programs with universities in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Oregon, and Mexico to continually test new varieties of berries for size, beauty, taste, and shelf life.

“Highbush blueberry growing in Florida is quite a new business, and much is still unknown about growing the crop,� says Lyrene. “The Mixons have done dozens of experiments to find better ways to water, fertilize, prune, mulch, control pests, and to determine what varieties to grow. UF has tested more than 100 advanced selections on the Mixon Farm at Lake Hamilton, and Jerry Mixon has given the breeding program excellent information on which varieties have survived, grown, and yielded best.�

According to the Mixons, Florida blueberry varieties and growing techniques continue to be experimental and challenging. “Soil conditions are not ideal,� says Jerry. “We have to be creative to manipulate plants to produce when we want them to.�

“The biggest challenge is producing reliably,� Keith says. “The solution is to find analytical ways of measuring and trying to repeat previous years’ success.�

Organics And Other Opportunities

Despite challenges, the Mixons see a strong berry market and foresee future growth. One area of expansion is organics. More than 100 acres in Florida and Georgia are currently in transition to organic production.

“We’re committed to increasing production to meet the needs of our customers — in all product lines, in all regions,� say the brothers.

For the past five years, demand continues to increase faster than supplies, and a large amount of acreage has been planted to catch up with demand. In the world market, the Mixons see a lot of new consumers coming on board with berries, with opportunities in Canada, Russia, and especially Europe and Asia.
“There are also untapped opportunities in value-added products, such as dried blueberries and blueberry juices, which are in development, but right now we are focused on the fresh market,� says Keith, pointing out that blackberries and raspberries have the same momentum and untapped potential as blueberries.

“We’ve been blessed,� concludes Jerry. “So many opportunities have presented themselves.�

Industry Involvement

When they’re not busy running one of the country’s biggest blueberry marketing operations, you may find the Mixon brothers donating their time and talents to industry organizations. Jerry sits on the board of directors of both the Florida Foundation Seed Producers and the Polk County Farm Bureau. Keith is a board member for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association as well as the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, serving as chair of the organization’s food safety committee. Greg was named to the Produce Marketing Association’s Top 40 Under 40 list, which recognizes young talent in the industry.

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Mixon Family Farm Builds Burgeoning Berry Business

  1. Your blueberries have reached long island, ny and they are- without a doubt- the very best blueberries I have ever had. Please keep them coming!!!

  2. Hola soy español de las islas canarias.trabajador experimentado en agricultura y selvicultura,demostrables conocimientos.solicia trabajo en sus empresas.esperando noticias le saluda atentamente Fernando

Berries Stories
Berries
March 30, 2017
Chateau Herbicide SW Now Registered for Use in Citrus, Caneberries
Broad spectrum preemergent herbicide to control broadleaf and grasses. Read More
SWD On Raspberry
Berries
March 26, 2017
Outsmarting SWD with Social Media
Entomologist in Kentucky uses social media for pest updates, trap catches. Read More
Freeze protected blueberry bushes in Florida
Berries
March 25, 2017
Florida Blueberry Crop Escapes Slap from Late-Season Cold Snap
Freeze protection tactics prove fruitful as local producers look to gain from Georgia’s loss. Read More
Frozen blueberries
Berries
March 15, 2017
Arctic Blast Gives Southern Fruit Growers the Chills
Peaches and berries in bloom most at risk from freezing temperatures. Read More
Growers boot up drone technology on the farm
Berries
March 3, 2017
Specialty Crops Primed for Precision Agriculture
Employing the latest horticultural technology tools could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new research paper. Read More
Berries
March 2, 2017
Pruning Pointers for Dormant Care of Berries
If you haven’t started pruning your berries, it’s time you do. Read More
Berries
February 26, 2017
Advantages to Growing Southern Highbush Blueberries
Growers in some regions where temperatures don’t get too low could consider the benefits of Southern highbush varieties. Read More
Berries
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry Production
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
2017 Florida Strawberry Picking Challenge winners
Berries
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big Winner for Charity
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More
Registration area at the 2017 Florida Blueberry Growers Association Spring Meeting
Berries
February 17, 2017
Florida Blueberry Growers Counting on a Comeback
With last season's disaster in the rear view, all eyes are searching for bluer skies. Read More
Wish Farms mega strawberry donation
Berries
February 14, 2017
Wish Farms Shows Love With Super-Sized Strawberry Donation
More than 4,000 pounds of locally grown produce from Central Florida farming operation goes to help feed needy families in the Tampa area. Read More
Florida Beauty strawberries
Berries
February 10, 2017
New Florida Strawberry Shaping up to Be a Thing of Beauty
Unique variety, a collaboration between UF/IFAS and an Australian scientist, still in its early stages. Read More
raspberry closeup
Berries
February 6, 2017
Washington Berry Grower Accused Of Illegal Irrigation Appeals Fines
Gurjant “George” Sandhu says the fines were unjust, and the State Department of Ecology hadn’t provided adequate evidence. Read More
SWD On Raspberry
Berries
January 27, 2017
Spotted Wing Drosophila ‘Stars’ at National Berry Conference
Biocontrols, nutrition, and new varieties are also among the hot topics discussed at the annual berry meeting. Read More
Berries
January 4, 2017
Growers Say it’s the Best of Times or the Worst of Times for Berry Industry
Some say there’s an oversupply, some disagree, but despite challenges for the berry industry, most growers remain upbeat about the future. Read More
The Latest
Berries
April 13, 2017
Florida Farming Family Staying on Top of…
The Hill family of Southern Hill Farms continues to up their efforts to diversify business and stay out ahead of a competitive market. Read More
Berries
April 10, 2017
North Carolina Blueberry Crop Still Kick…
Thanks to pruning cuts and a diverse mix of cultivars, the majority of the crop survived a series of March freezes. Read More
Berries
April 6, 2017
Study Shows Bumblebees Can Boost Blueber…
UF/IFAS researchers find placing hives of the distinct pollinator in the field pumps up output by 70%. Read More
Berries
March 30, 2017
Chateau Herbicide SW Now Registered for …
Broad spectrum preemergent herbicide to control broadleaf and grasses. Read More
Berries
March 26, 2017
Outsmarting SWD with Social Media
Entomologist in Kentucky uses social media for pest updates, trap catches. Read More
Berries
March 25, 2017
Florida Blueberry Crop Escapes Slap from…
Freeze protection tactics prove fruitful as local producers look to gain from Georgia’s loss. Read More
Berries
March 15, 2017
Arctic Blast Gives Southern Fruit Grower…
Peaches and berries in bloom most at risk from freezing temperatures. Read More
Berries
March 3, 2017
Specialty Crops Primed for Precision Agr…
Employing the latest horticultural technology tools could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new research paper. Read More
Berries
March 2, 2017
Pruning Pointers for Dormant Care of Ber…
If you haven’t started pruning your berries, it’s time you do. Read More
Berries
February 26, 2017
Advantages to Growing Southern Highbush …
Growers in some regions where temperatures don’t get too low could consider the benefits of Southern highbush varieties. Read More
Berries
February 23, 2017
Primocane: A Major Innovation in Berry P…
I’ve witnessed the rise of primocane-fruiting blackberries, from first selections to integration in the market. Read More
Berries
February 22, 2017
Florida Strawberry Picking Contest a Big…
Fourth-annual fundraising event brings in more than $100,000 to benefit children of local farmworkers. Read More
Berries
February 17, 2017
Florida Blueberry Growers Counting on a …
With last season's disaster in the rear view, all eyes are searching for bluer skies. Read More
Berries
February 14, 2017
Wish Farms Shows Love With Super-Sized S…
More than 4,000 pounds of locally grown produce from Central Florida farming operation goes to help feed needy families in the Tampa area. Read More
Berries
February 10, 2017
New Florida Strawberry Shaping up to Be …
Unique variety, a collaboration between UF/IFAS and an Australian scientist, still in its early stages. Read More
Berries
February 6, 2017
Washington Berry Grower Accused Of Illeg…
Gurjant “George” Sandhu says the fines were unjust, and the State Department of Ecology hadn’t provided adequate evidence. Read More
Berries
January 27, 2017
Spotted Wing Drosophila ‘Stars’ at Natio…
Biocontrols, nutrition, and new varieties are also among the hot topics discussed at the annual berry meeting. Read More
Berries
January 4, 2017
Growers Say it’s the Best of Times…
Some say there’s an oversupply, some disagree, but despite challenges for the berry industry, most growers remain upbeat about the future. Read More