Van Solkema Produce recently wrapped up the first season of packing Vidalia onions at its new shed in Glennville, Ga., and it planned to begin packing its first load of Peruvian sweet onions there Sept. 23.
The facility, purchased from Four Corners Farms in November 2012, will allow the Byron Center, Mich., grower-packer to enhance its year-round offerings of onions, carrots and other produce, chief executive officer Todd Van Solkema said.
It will allow the firm to spread its risks among commodities.
“We’ve made that facility not just an onion shed,” he said. “It’s a mixed vegetable packinghouse. In a year like this, which was a tough onion deal, it will help growers offset losses. We’re trying to introduce new things to growers rather than just Vidalias.”
Van Solkema was referring to the Vidalia onion deal, in which his firm has been involved for 36 years.
This year, early fields were slowed by production challenges, and many in the industry expected smaller-than-average yields.
But the situation quickly changed, and yields from later fields turned out larger than anticipated and were still in the market in fairly large volumes when the Peruvian deal started a few weeks early in late July.
“There was a lot of overlap,” he said. “We saw this coming. So we started shipments the 23rd, which will put us just right.”
Packing of cucumbers should begin in mid-October, followed by cabbage in November.
The coming season will be the first for Van Solkema in the Georgia sweet carrot deal, which should start the first week in January, Van Solkema said.
Diversifying crops also will help the company’s economics.
“You have to keep produce going through (the shed) just to keep your overhead down,” he said.
The Four Corners Produce acquisition also involved controlled-atmosphere storage for about 120,000 bushels, Van Solkema said.
In addition to facilities in Byron Center and Glennville, Van Solkema has operations in Nogales, Ariz., and McAllen, Texas.