Growers continue to rise to the challenges of today’s marketplace. Most do a great job. Some, however, do an excellent job. Those striving for excellence are the ones we are highlighting here as the finalists for the 2008 Grower Achievement Award.
Next month, American Vegetable Grower (AVG) will present the seventh annual Grower Achievement Award to a superior vegetable operation. We had some very deserving farms competing for the award again this year.
The 2008 award, sponsored by Syngenta Seeds/ROGERS Brand in cooperation with United Fresh Produce Association, is presented annually by AVG to a grower operation that goes above and beyond, establishing itself as an industry role model. The nominations were evaluated based on each of the farms’ achievements in the following categories: consumer-oriented marketing, use of innovative technology, food safety and food quality, industry leadership, and spirit of achievement.
A panel of industry experts has already met to discuss the merits of each finalist. The winner will be announced in the September issue. The award will be presented at the United Fresh Public Policy Conference in Washington, DC, Sept. 10-12. Here are highlights from this year’s finalists.
Buurma Farms, Inc.
Location: Willard, OH
Owners: The Buurma Family
Vegetable Acres: 4,000
Crops: Radishes, celery, carrots, southern greens, green beans, parsley, cilantro, dill, sweet corn, peppers, cucumbers, green onions, beets, zucchini, summer squash, and cabbage
In 1896, Buurma Farms began as a vegetable farm with a local marketing approach that stretched only 75 miles from its headquarters in Celeryville, OH. About 112 years later, this family business has grown to reach two-thirds of the nation within 24 hours of harvest. Run by 12 fourth and fifth generation Buurma shareholders, the operation has two additional farm locations in Gregory, MI, and Claxton, GA.
In addition to traditional produce packing methods, this company was one of the first to offer cello radishes in resealable bags. The three Buurma locations now use the computerized DataTrack touch probe time-keeping system for its employees.
In terms of food safety, the farms schedule regular third-party audits, utilize an efficient traceback system of barcodes and labels, and have appointed a corporate safety officer.
Active in the industry, Bruce Buurma has served as president of the Ohio Vegetable & Potato Growers Association,
and Loren Buurma is currently on its board of directors.
Location: Tifton, GA
Owners: Bill Brim and Ed Walker
Vegetable Acres: 4,170
Crops: Bell peppers, specialty peppers, cucumbers, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, tomatoes, eggplant, and oriental vegetables
Although it operates as a corporation, Lewis-Taylor Farms is still a family business with more than 50 years of history. Starting out in primarily transplant production, the farm began producing row crops in 1985 and began growing vegetable transplants in containers in 1987.
With an emphasis on environmentally friendly practices, Lewis-Taylor has partnered with the University of Georgia to eliminate the use of methyl bromide on the farm. As one of the first in its state to employ GPS technologies, the farm also uses one of the most advanced cooling systems. This system involves running 9,000 gallons of water per minute over melons, broccoli, and leafy greens to cool those products from 90°F to about 45°F in 20 minutes.
Lewis-Taylor Farms is Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices certified. Co-owner Bill Brim is currently in his second term as president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and is a member of the National Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Council.
L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Inc.
Location: Lyons, GA
Owner: L.G. Herndon Jr. (Bo)
Vegetable Acres: 2,151
Crops: Vidalia sweet onions, sweet corn, and greens
Between his active field and sales work, his role on the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Board of Directors, and his dedication as chairperson of the Vidalia Onion Committee, L.G. “Bo” Herndon is a busy man.
Working with the University of Georgia Extension service, Bo has helped commission new seed trials and set up grants to support research for disease control and improved irrigation practices.
In 2004, Herndon Farms became Good Agricultural Practices certified, and this past April, the company passed a mock trace recall drill. In addition to third-party auditors, the farm also hires an agriculture lab to do further onion inspections for flavor profiles and pungency testing.
Herndon Farms recently expanded its warehouse and packing facility to almost 5 acres, which has helped save on labor and protect onions from damage. The farm established ponds and lakes to capture 90% of the watershed from the fields to use for irrigation water.
Pacific Tomato Growers, Ltd.
Location: Palmetto, FL
Owners: Esformes and Heller families
Vegetable Acres: 6,423
Crops: Field-grown round, grape, and Roma tomatoes
Producing a sweeter tomato and known for implementing the strictest of safety standards, Pacific Tomato Growers is one of five companies that shares the Sunripe brand.
Pacific Tomato is Socially Accountable Farm Employers certified and regularly meets and exceeds Good Agricultural Practices and Good Manufacturing Systems guidelines. For the tracking and tracing of every single container, this operation uses an integrated ink-jet printing system to code its primary tomato clamshells and shipping cases for bulk quantities.
Recognized by the Florida Department of Agriculture for environmental leadership, Pacific Tomato has reduced runoff into the Myakka River by nearly 90% with a unique reuse and recycle water system.
Members of both Esformes and Heller families serve as models of industry leadership. CEO Billy Heller is involved with the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, the Florida Tomato Committee, the United Fresh Produce Association, and the National Coalition of Agricultural Employees, to name a few.
Eubanks Produce, Inc.
Location: Lucedale, MS
Owners: Allen and Janice Eubanks
Vegetable Acres: 1,000
Crops: Watermelon, cantaloupe, peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, strawberries, tomatoes, cabbage, and broccoli
Focusing on local pride, Allen and Janice Eubanks promote state grown produce with “Make Mine Mississippi” stickers on their products. This farm markets its produce to large and small grocery retail outlets, and every Wal-Mart in the state of Mississippi carries strawberries from Eubanks Produce. The Eubanks manage a successful pick-your-own operation, as well.
In the field, Eubanks uses a vacuum planter for precision seeding and auto-steer technology for row building and to apply crop protectants. The Eubanks use cover crops to reduce wind-related sand-blasting and to provide crops with protection from the cold. The farm also uses high tunnels for strawberry production, and black plastic with drip irrigation is used on all crops.
In 2004, the farm became the first grower in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama to receive food safety certification from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture. Allen Eubanks is a member of the State Farm Agency Board and board member of the Society of St. Andrew’s Food Gleaning Association.