Papen Farms moving forward with strong leadership
It was a blow to Dover, DE-based Papen Farms when Richard Papen suddenly died in the spring of 2022, but the family-run company has continued to move forward, and is expecting an excellent 2023 vegetable season to start by mid-June.
Though Papen was 84 years old when he passed, he died suddenly and unexpectedly in April of last year. Today, his sister, Janet Meyer, and daughter, Carol Traegler, are running the administrative side of the business on a day-to-day basis. Jeffrey Papen, son of Jim Papen and nephew of Richard, is the president of the company, while Anthony (Tony) Kaczka and Jack Papen, also third-generation family members, are largely responsible for the production end of the business. Chris Cunningham handles the sales for the company, working in the office from June through October aligning his presence with the company’s sales window.
Meyer, Traegler and Kaczka sat down with The Produce News in late May to discuss the upcoming 2023 season. The farm’s fresh produce crops grown on its 2,000 acres are sweet corn, green beans and cabbage. Myer said cabbage will be the first product out of the gate as harvest is expected to start on June 12th, and the quality appears to be excellent. “The weather has been good for growing,” said Traegler, “though we could use a little more rain.”
The cabbage is the company’s smallest volume fresh crop with about 65 acres under cultivation. Meyer said the cabbage all must be hand harvested so it is a very labor-intensive effort and causes the company to moderate its acreage of that particular crop. “The green beans and sweet corn are mechanically harvested,” she added.
Kaczka said the sweet corn crop is the firm’s largest volume item as it grows the crop on more than 1,000 acres with harvesting beginning right after the 4th of July and lasting for about two months. “We pack in all wooden crates with 48 ears to the crate,” he said.
For green beans, Papen has a split season. The spring plantings will start to yield results in late June while the fall crop will hit the market in September. Kaczka said about 500 acres are utilized for those two time slots.
This year the green bean production has received a major upgrade as Papen Farms has added a new automated bean packing line that will make the packing process more efficient and promises to produce a better, more uniform pack. “We’re always striving to improve,” said Meyer.
Interestingly, the company has different niche markets for the three fresh crops. “Most of the corn goes south to chain stores,” said Meyer, noting that Publix Supermarkets with stores in the Southeast is one of its better customers. “We also sell some to the wholesale markets in New York and Philadelphia.
Traegler said most of the cabbage goes north to the wholesale produce markets in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and also Baltimore. Green beans are sold over a wider geographic area. In fact, because the green bean market has been so high priced with limited volume throughout the spring, the three representatives indicated they are ready to ship to the West Coast if the need arises.
As the season approached, the Papen team believes it has done what it needs to secure its labor force. Traegler said at the peak of the season, the company needs about 80 employees to assist in harvesting, packing and shipping the produce to market. Meyer said the company uses a farm labor contractor who brought in temporary foreign workers under the Department of labor’s H2A program for the first time last year and will do so again this season.
Photo: Chris Cunningham and Richard Papen