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J&D Produce targets customer needs

At planting season, growers tend to be optimistic, noted Jimmy Bassetti, the president of J&D Produce, located in Edinburg, TX.

But, he said, the days for boundless optimism have been confined to marketing realities. “Growers in this day and age need to grow what their customers need. The costs are way too high compared to years ago, when you could afford to speculate.” The costs of seed, fertilizer, labor, machinery and food-safety programs have “gone through the roof.”

Labor costs are a huge expense, he said, demanding discretion when seasonal planting strategies are devised.

2019-9-23-1625-Trent-Bishop-Bret-E-JDTrent Bishop and Bret Erickson of J&D Produce Inc.This year for the first time, J&D is planning to begin using workers within the federal H-2A program, which allows U.S. growers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Bassetti said, “It’s not an ideal program by any means, and it’s terribly expensive and cumbersome to use, but we are being left with no other choice.”

Loosely speaking, Bassetti indicated that minimum wage rates in various states can range from $7.25 to $10 per hour. Legal foreign workers in the H-2A program will cost J&D about $14 per hour.

“How can a U.S. farmer compete with products coming from where growers do not have anything near our labor costs and regulatory requirements?” Bassetti wonders. “You just hope our customers in retail, wholesale and foodservice recognize the issue and support U.S. farmers when domestic product is available. I support free and fair trade; we import product to complement our overall operation, and as a consumer, I like having options in the produce aisle all year round, but when domestic product is available and in season, I hold out hope that U.S. buying organizations begin to focus more on sourcing U.S.-grown product.”
He credits Canada with focusing on supporting its growers. “Hats off to the Canadians. When Canadian product is in season, buyers focus on Canadian grown first, only turning to the U.S. or elsewhere when the Canadian season ends,” Bassetti said.

J&D Produce is a grower, packer and shipper specializing fresh greens, melons, maroon carrots and its proprietary HoneySweet onion and HoneySuckle red onion.

As to the Rio Grande Valley vegetable planting this fall, in September temperatures were hot and soil temperatures were higher than ideal for planting.

On Oct. 7, he said temperatures had cooled, which was good for J&D’s fall deal.

In November, J&D would begin shipping, with a good volume for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We should have a good season. Our program will be pretty much like what we’ve had previously, with a few new items up our sleeve.” J&D will be shipping its usual mix of wet vegetables and cabbages, Asian vegetables and vine ripe honeydew. In the spring, the firm will ship watermelons and mini-melons.

J&D ships its HoneySweet onions and HoneySuckle red onions 12 months a year.

Additionally, Trent Bishop joined the sales staff of J&D Produce Inc. late this summer.

Bishop is a south Texas industry veteran, coming from Lone Star Citrus Growers in nearby Mission.

“Trent has great ideas. He’s a lot about preparing this team for the future,” said Bret Erickson, senior vice president of business affairs.