FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Florida East Coast vegetable grower-shipper and a southwest Florida-based buying broker are moving more into growing and sourcing winter offshore vegetables.
Loxahatchee-based J&J Produce Inc. and Weis-Buy Farms Inc. are expanding their involvement with Dominican Republic vegetables.
In late September, buying broker Weis-Buy started importing a large crop of hothouse peppers, including red, yellow and orange colors.
Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer, said Weis-Buy plans to pack its own cucumber slicers as well as English cucumbers, a variety of hothouse peppers and hothouse grape, romas and round tomatoes.
He said he’s in talks with a company about importing some Chinese vegetables and said he may also import some okra and watermelon.
Weisinger said he also plans to import small-sized watermelon from Honduras and Guatemala.
Weis-Buy imports the product into ports in Fort Lauderdale and New York.
Weis-Buy began importing small volumes over the summer but ramped up volume in September, Weisinger said.
“I can’t see the future working any other way than this,” Weisinger said.
“We (in Florida) face competition every year. Not just other farmers in other states, but the Canadians and Mexicans. We are marketing this product as a marketer and growers’ agent. It gives us access to some of the foodservice chains we didn’t have access to as a broker and nongrower.”
Transitioning its sourcing from Honduras to the Dominican Republic, J&J is increasing its offshore volume this season, said Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing.
“We have identified that area as a great growing region,” he said.
“It’s much better than Honduras. Warm in the day and cool at night. We have been dabbling there the last couple of years through trial and error. We have established the best dirt and local growers to partner with.”
J&J started building its own packinghouse in the San Juan Dela Maguana area.
Being constructed in phases, the packinghouse should help J&J enlarge its import program in the next five to 10 years, Rayfield said.
Once the operation is running, Rayfield said J&J expects to pack 500,000 cartons of cucumbers and eggplant, as well as smaller volumes of squash, okra, variety peppers, grape tomatoes and watermelon.
The Dominican Republic season generally starts in late December and hits high volume January through March before lessening in April when Florida cucumber and eggplant production returns in large volume.