R.C. Hatton Stays Ahead Of The Curve

Ahead Of The Curve

In the 1960s, R.C. Hatton Farms was one of the first vegetable growers to use aerial pest control applications. In 1978, the farm was one of the initial operations to plant Sh2 (super sweet gene type) corn, and then was one of the earliest growers to use Monosem planters. Later, R.C. Hatton became one of the first vegetable growers in Florida to use returnable plastic containers (RPCs) in the packinghouse. These are just a few examples of how being at the forefront of embracing new technologies has helped the Pahokee operation survive and thrive for more than 75 years.

Ongoing Operation Expansion

Founded on approximately 200 acres in 1932 by Robert C. Hatton, R.C. Hatton Farms has steadily expanded over the years to its current size of 12,000 acres. Today, Roger Hatton (son of Robert) and Paul Allen own the bustling business.

“In the 1960s, the advent of aerial applications allowed the farm to quadruple in size within five years,” says Hatton. “It allowed us to grow pest-free products at affordable costs.”

Later acreage increases were due in large part to customers wanting an annual supply.

“A dozen customers buy 80% to 90% of our product,” says Allen. “They want to deal year-round with the same farmer/shipper/marketing agency.”

Although the farm does not yet produce 12 months of the year, it purchases product from other farms for their customers during the period of July 15-Sept. 15.

Computer technology also has contributed to the farm’s expansion. With laptop computers and satellites, managers in the field can track and transmit information on pesticide applications, best management practices, as well as planting and harvesting records.

“Computers can track the sowing distance of seed, the population of seed, fertilizer output, etc., which makes for more precise planning,” says Allen. “Computerized record-keeping is how we achieve such high food safety standards.”

The farm earned a gold rating two years in a row from Tescoe Nature’s Choice and is EUREPGAP certified.

Greater Returns With RPCs

R.C. Hatton uses a special system to pack sweet corn into returnable plastic containers (RPCs) that are display-ready for retailers. Instead of packing corn in the field, like most growers do, R.C. Hatton transports it in reinforced bins to the packinghouse, where it is packed in RPCs under indoor conditions.

“Packing indoors is less labor intensive, more efficient, and increases productivity by 50%,” says Allen.

“Laborers are working in a more friendly environment (not out in the sun, wind, or rain), so we are able to get better employees who become more productive and make more money,” adds Hatton.

Team Effort

Providing employees with the most comfortable working conditions possible is a top concern for R.C. Hatton.

“Workers begin picking between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. and are done by noon, before it is too terribly hot,” says Hatton. “Packing operations begin at 8:00 a.m. so parents can drop their kids off at school before coming to work. There’s more to it than just making a buck. If you provide a good lifestyle, it’s good for business.”

Allen attributes the success of the farm to its employees. “We have the greatest employees that work along side of us. They know our goals, and what drives us as owners is our mission statement (see sidebar below).”

Allen also thinks the age difference between himself and Hatton keeps the company healthy. While Hatton, 63, brings many years of experience and historical knowledge to the table, Allen, 42, is focused on looking ahead and bringing the next generation (his son Jonathan) on board in the business.

Meeting Marketing Demands

Another area Allen is directing his attention to is marketing. 

“The sweet corn industry is more mature now,” says Hatton. “A nearly perfect crop is assumed, and the challenge is marketing it. What’s changed is the way in which customers consume the product. Working housewives want it ready to go.”

With that in mind, Allen was responsible for research and development of value-added tray packs for the farm’s sweet corn. Cut and washed ears of corn are sold in two-packs or four-packs that are microwavable. Hugh Branch Inc., the country’s largest distributor of sweet corn, markets all of R.C. Hatton’s produce, including 2-inch ears of corn for children called Mini-Sweets.

R.C. Hatton Farms

Owners: Roger Hatton and Paul Allen

Locations: Pahokee, FL and Sumner, GA

Year Founded: 1932

Main Crops: Sweet corn, green beans, sugar cane, watermelon, and celery

Acres in Production: 12,000

Number of Full-Time Employees: 20

Customers: Major retail chains and food service

Region served: East of Mississippi

Member of: Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, and Florida Farm Bureau

Mission Statement: “Our mission is to produce and package the best product possible while providing a safe, clean working environment for our highly valued employees.”

Allen’s industry involvement keeps him in tune with market trends and demands. He serves as the Florida Sweet Corn Exchange president as well as a board member for Farm Bureau and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Confronting Challenges

 

While the commercial food-service side of the business is blessed with strong sales, the farm is not without challenges. Allen ranks long-term land availability, food safety, and labor at the top of the list.

“We always try to have our risk spread on land availability, owning land but also leasing from several different land owners,” says Allen. “We have recently hired (along with other growers in the Hugh Branch marketing group) a full-time food safety director, Kiley Harper-Larsen. We continue to look to more mechanization along with petitioning government for a sustainable work force.”

R.C. Hatton is addressing another challenge, too — the escalating cost of inputs. The farm is looking at alternatives to standard fertilizers and is using more fuel-efficient tractors. Leasing (not owning) tractors has proven to be a money saver, too.

Challenges aside, Allen and Hatton love what they do and say the future looks bright for the farm.

Grower Steve Williams of Knight Management, a friendly competitor of R.C. Hatton, concludes, “Allen and Hatton are stand-up individuals and good business people. Their resources combined with their management skills make them a formidable player in the Glades.”  

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “R.C. Hatton Stays Ahead Of The Curve

  1. Paul Allen was in Puerto Rico last saturday for a new investment in Puerto Rico Iam working in Guanica vegetables project, Iam Agricultural Economist MS and the south part of Puerto Rico will be good for sugarcane and vegetables, some 20,000 acres are available for a sugarcane project in the future no crop at this time.

    Thanks very much;

    Luis Conty

  2. Paul Allen was in Puerto Rico last saturday for a new investment in Puerto Rico Iam working in Guanica vegetables project, Iam Agricultural Economist MS and the south part of Puerto Rico will be good for sugarcane and vegetables, some 20,000 acres are available for a sugarcane project in the future no crop at this time.

    Thanks very much;

    Luis Conty

Featured Stories
a trio of peaches
Fruits
January 20, 2017
Insecticide Label Expanded to Many Specialty Crops
Sivanto Prime from Bayer can now be used in foliar form on stone fruit and caneberries, and for soil use on leafy and brassica vegetables. Read More
Grapes
January 20, 2017
Live Reports on the State of the Wine Industry
The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, by far the nation’s largest winegrape conference, is happening this week in Sacramento, CA. Read More
Jones Potato Farm field in Parrish, FL
Citrus
January 20, 2017
Farming Will Always Have a Place in Florida [Opinion]
Growers are resilient and agriculture will survive in our state and elsewhere. It has to, if we want food on our plates. Read More
Stemphylium leaf spot of spinach
Disease Control
January 20, 2017
Don’t Let Stemphylium Leaf Spot Stump Your Spinach Crop
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this vegetable disease. Read More
Late blight shown in a tomato
Disease Control
January 19, 2017
Clues Found to Block Late Blight’s Blitz on Potatoes, Tomatoes
With food security at stake, breakthrough in genetic research could help prevent more strains of the deadly pathogen from entering the U.S. Read More
Grapes
January 19, 2017
U.S. Challenges Canadian Trade Measures Allege Discrimination against U.S. Wine
Trade enforcement action challenges British Columbia regulations that unfairly exclude U.S. wine from grocery store shelves. Read More
Sonny Perdue
Citrus
January 19, 2017
Trump Taps Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture Position
Ag leaders applaud pick to head up USDA. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New York Representatives Introduce Bill to Move H-2A from Department of Labor to Department of Agriculture
Legislators say the move aligns the program in the department to better fit the needs of agriculture businesses. Read More
Freeze protected peach trees in Florida
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New Technology Could Take Weather Intel to the Extreme for Farmers
Scientists aiming to make difficult climate-based production decisions easier for growers. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
January 20, 2017
Insecticide Label Expanded to Many Speci…
Sivanto Prime from Bayer can now be used in foliar form on stone fruit and caneberries, and for soil use on leafy and brassica vegetables. Read More
Grapes
January 20, 2017
Live Reports on the State of the Wine In…
The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, by far the nation’s largest winegrape conference, is happening this week in Sacramento, CA. Read More
Farm Marketing
January 20, 2017
Direct Marketing Revenue Topped $8 Billi…
USDA has released its first-ever survey on direct marketing, and it shows that the local food industry is huge. Read More
Citrus
January 20, 2017
Farming Will Always Have a Place in Flor…
Growers are resilient and agriculture will survive in our state and elsewhere. It has to, if we want food on our plates. Read More
Disease Control
January 20, 2017
Don’t Let Stemphylium Leaf Spot St…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this vegetable disease. Read More
Disease Control
January 19, 2017
Clues Found to Block Late Blight’s…
With food security at stake, breakthrough in genetic research could help prevent more strains of the deadly pathogen from entering the U.S. Read More
Grapes
January 19, 2017
U.S. Challenges Canadian Trade Measures …
Trade enforcement action challenges British Columbia regulations that unfairly exclude U.S. wine from grocery store shelves. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
Trump Taps Sonny Perdue for Secretary of…
Ag leaders applaud pick to head up USDA. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New York Representatives Introduce Bill …
Legislators say the move aligns the program in the department to better fit the needs of agriculture businesses. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New Technology Could Take Weather Intel …
Scientists aiming to make difficult climate-based production decisions easier for growers. Read More
Fruits
January 19, 2017
Funding Available to Improve Ag, Food Sc…
USDA announces $18.9 million for ag education at 1890s land-grant colleges and universities. Read More
Citrus
January 18, 2017
NASA, NOAA Concur 2016 Was World’s Warme…
For the third time in three years, the bar is raised on surface temperature statistics. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
Southwest Growers Are Best Prepared for …
Almost half of all Southwest operations are grooming its next generation of leadership — an alarmingly low statistic, but one that is the highest in the country, according to American Vegetable Grower magazine's 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry survey. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
The Midwest Is Nurturing the Next Genera…
It has more young businesses, percentage wise, than other regions: 39% of responding businesses are less than 10 years old. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
The West Had the Highest Increase in U.S…
The West not only has the largest vegetable operations, it also saw the strongest growth in production in the U.S., according to American Vegetable Grower magazine's 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry survey. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
One in Five Southeast Growers Use H-2A
American Vegetable Grower magazine's 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry survey revealed quite a few qualities about the Southeast that may surprise you, including it being more likely to use H-2A than other regions. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
The 2016 Drought Is Having a Big Impact …
The 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry gave us insight into each region of the U.S. Sifting through the data, we flagged those responses that were markedly higher or lower than other regions. Responses from Northeast growers made it clear that the 2016 drought had taken a toll. Read More
GenNext Growers
January 18, 2017
$858,000 in Grants to Encourage Careers …
Funding to invest in programs that educate, promote science in the classroom. Read More