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Parker Farms adds capacity & packaging options

By
Tim Linden

With a 25 percent increase in the size of its packinghouse and cold storage facilities, Colonial Beach, VA-based Parker Farms is poised for growth in both volume and its packaging options.

“The game plan is to grow our business and offer more options for our customers,” said Sales Manager Jimmy Carter. “It is somewhat of a leap of faith attitude — build it and they will come.”

He added that the company is continually looking forward to the future for opportunities to increase the returns to the farm. The extra room in the facility will allow for the creation of new value-added packs such as shrink wrapping of product as well as value-added options to go along with its full line of bulk presentations. “We see there is a lot of market potential in value-added business,” he said, noting that the company has fielded requests from customers for new packing options.

Right on queue, when the Georgia sweet corn crop is ready for harvest in the May 10-15 time frame, the expanded facility will be operational and offering a four-count and five-count tray pack. “Or whatever size package our customers want,” Carter added.

He noted that the company’s organic and conventional broccoli production from Georgia did get started in mid-April and will run through the end of May. Squash, cucumber and Bell peppers will get going in May and run through June 15 from that state.

The company also has farms and grower partners in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York which gives it a steady flow of product from April through summer. “Then in the fall, we will be right back in Georgia for fall production,” he added.

Carter noted that the broccoli market was red hot as the company began harvesting its crops as the West Coast transition from the desert to coastal California was experiencing weather-related issues that have severely limited volume on many items, including broccoli. California’s heavy rains have been well-reported as has been the flooding in the Salinas Valley of that state, which has led to a very slow start to spring production.

Carter said the company was well aware of those issues but it does not specifically alter its production of any crop on a speculative basis. “Historically, we don’t try to chase markets,” he said. “We plant what we believe we can sell and have commitments for from buyers. We think of the grower first and want to produce enough volume for which we can get a fair price.”

He did allow that volatility in the west because of weather-related issues has factored into the company’s thinking as it plans for the future. Speaking to The Produce News in mid-April, Carter was looking at cauliflower FOB prices from California that reached into the $70 per carton range. He said retailers note this volatility and have made inquiries about the future capabilities of eastern farmers.

“California used to be very steady and one place you could always count on (for supplies), but there has been more volatility recently,” he said.

Sean McFadden, director of business development for Parker Farms, agreed that it only makes sense to look at competing areas and see what factors they are facing that will impact future production. “In my mind,” he said, “volatility is going to be more normal moving forward. We know of the many issues California has including labor issues, political issues, trucking concerns. These all affect profitability and we have to look at that.”

Carter said a logical product expansion would be cauliflower, which is often grouped with broccoli on the sales front. “We have trialed it and are thinking about it,” he said. “There are some hurdles to clear. To be successful here, we believe we would have to do larger plantings and shoot for a smaller window.”

He also noted that this year, the company may see increased sales further west because of the West Coast transition situation. “We typically sell east of the Mississippi but we have dipped into Texas with our sweet corn and we may see some orders from further west,” he stated.

While broccoli is the only organic crop currently in production in Georgia for Parker Farms, the company is continuing to try to expand that option for its customers. McFadden said there is increased demand for organics and the company will have an organic option for most of its crops as production moves north into North Carolina and beyond.

One of the advantages eastern buyers have sourcing local production is the significant savings on transportation costs. Carter said that currently truck rates were fairly stable but he anticipates that there will be truck shortages associated with the high-traffic holiday periods coming up in the spring and summer.

He said it is difficult to attract drivers to that line of work, largely because of the working conditions, which keeps them on the road and away from home for many days during the month.

Tim Linden

Tim Linden

About Tim Linden  |  email

Tim Linden grew up in a produce family as both his father and grandfather spent their business careers on the wholesale terminal markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tim graduated from San Diego State University in 1974 with a degree in journalism. Shortly thereafter he began his career at The Packer where he stayed for eight years, leaving in 1983 to join Western Growers as editor of its monthly magazine. In 1986, Tim launched Champ Publishing as an agricultural publishing specialty company.

Today he is a contract publisher for several trade associations and writes extensively on all aspects of the produce business. He began writing for The Produce News in 1997, and currently wears the title of Editor at Large.

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