South Florida harvesting ready to ramp up for Jackson Farming
The Jackson family stands tall on the North Carolina landscape as one of the state’s premiere grower-packer-shippers of quality fruits and vegetables. The Jackson Farming Co. is located in Fayetteville, NC, and was founded by Brent and Debbie Jackson. Their sons are actively involved in the business today, and they look forward to the day when the third generation of Jacksons will take their places in the family business.
“We grow, pack and ship seedless watermelons, seeded watermelons, seedless yellow meat watermelons, Athena cantaloupes, honeydew melons, Sprite melons, canary melons, strawberries, broccoli, sweet potatoes and pumpkins,” Vice President of Operations, Supply Chain Matt Solana told The Produce News April 8.
Watermelons, grown on 400 acres in Florida and 500 acres in North Carolina, are marketed throughout the year. The harvesting schedule rotates through the growing areas. Watermelons are typically harvested in Sarasota, FL, around April 25. “It will be May 10 or later this year due to a late winter and cold temperatures,” Mr. Solana said. Harvesting in Sarasota ends around the first week of June. Jackson Farming then moves to McAlpin, FL, with harvesting beginning around June 6 and ending the first week in July. Production ramps up in Autryville, NC, around June 25 and ends Sept. 30.
Weather was a factor for some of the company’s crop this season. “In Sarasota, as noted above, it has put us back about two weeks due to the late winter and low temperatures since we planted in February,” Mr. Solana commented. “In McAlpin, we should still make the first week in June but had to replant part of the crop due to frost damage. North Carolina has not been planted yet. So it should be on time.”
He expressed some concern about product from south Florida relating to quality. Watermelons are not getting big enough, and he said they show cracked or hollow heart due to temperature extremes. “North Florida should be OK with the replant on quality,” he added.
The company uses the H2-A guest worker program.
Jackson Farming Co. packs watermelons from the fields in plastic bins, which are then emptied onto the line. The fruit moves through a chlorinated bath and is checked for quality. The watermelons are electronically sized to ensure that customers receive the correct size and weight in each bin.
Watermelons are marketed under the “Jackson Farming Company” label. “The majority of our business is chainstore, with Walmart, Food City, Delhaize America, Kroger, Aldi and Lowes to name a few,” Mr. Solana said. Most of the company’s customer base is located in the Mid-Atlantic region.
On the food-safety front, Jackson Farming Co. is GlobalGAP-certified and GS1-compliant on UPCs and labels. “We are PTI-compliant,” Mr. Solana added.
Mr. Solana said a new farm is in operation in Sarasota, and the company has expanded its sweet potato parking facility in North Carolina. “[We] joined the newly formed Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association to raise the bar on Eastern cantaloupes,” he noted.