Michigan Produce business updates

06/06/2012 02:21:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Greiner Farms adds fruit orchard acreage

Hart, Mich.-based Todd Greiner Farms added 350 acres of fruit orchards and open land for row crops this season, giving the asparagus specialist a total of 1,500 fruit and vegetable acres, said Tyler Hodges, the company’s sales manager.

The purchase is the company’s largest in several years, Hodges said.

“We’re always looking to grow in manageable steps.”

However, Hodges said he doubts whether the company will be able to harvest many, if any, apples, cherries or peaches on the new land after a devastating late-April freeze.

Greiner Farms also bought 70 acres of asparagus land in the past year. The first harvest on the land is expected in 2014, Hodges said.

The company also is looking forward to the sophomore season for its Hillsdale, Mich., watermelon deal, Hodges said.

“It goes well with our pumpkins,” he said. “There are some watermelons from Indiana and other states, but the main state at that time is Texas, and we think there are some opportunities.”

Greiner Farms expects to ship watermelons from early August to about Sept. 10.

Freeze likely to end Greg Orchards’ season

The devastating freeze at the end of April wiped out most tree fruit crops in southwest Michigan, and as a result, once Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Greg Orchards & Produce Inc. finishes packing 2011-2012 fruit, it likely will shut down for the year, general manager Barry Winkel said.

“Hopefully next year we’ll be back in the game,” Winkel said. “You have to make the best of it. It hasn’t sunk in yet for a lot of people.”

It’s not just area growers, but also their workers and employees at packers such Greg Orchards who will be affected by the industry shutdown, Winkel said. Service providers in trucking, chemicals, fertilizers, equipment and all other ancillary industries that serve agriculture also will feel the pain. And unlike growers, no one else along the supply chain has insurance to protect them from such disasters, Winkel said.

Still, Winkel is confident the industry will bounce back.

“If it happened two years in a row, you’d see a lot of changes,” he said. “But we’ve always had customers. They come back. People who are trying to make money don’t hold a vendetta, especially on something like this, where it’s nobody’s fault.”

Hearty Fresh adds salesman/buyer

Byron Center, Mich.-based Hearty Fresh has hired a new salesman/buyer to help handle rapid growth.

Dan Steenwyk was set to join Hearty Fresh on June 4 in a new salesman/buyer position, said Talbert Nething, the company’s general manager.

Steenwyk, whose family grows onion and celery in the Byron Center area, previously worked in sales in a non-produce industry.

The addition of Steenwyk was driven by recent company growth following the addition of two Eastern retailers to the company’s customer base, Nething said.

“We’ve been slammed,” he said. “We’ve been working seven days a week, and we added a second shift.”

The company also has added four new semis and trailers to handle increased demand, Nething said.

The recent growth has made space tight at the company’s 110,000-square-foot warehouse, Nething said. If the company expands in the future, it could be on or near the East Coast, rather than at its Byron Center headquarters, he said.

L&M Cos. opens Benton Harbor location

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. has opened a new location on the Benton Harbor, Mich., market and will expand its Michigan vegetable offerings.

L&M is representing several Michigan growers this year, according to a company news release. L&M’s vegetable line specializes in peppers, cucumbers, squash, cabbage and eggplant.

“In addition to working with several wonderful growers this year, we are happy to have a place we can officially call home on the Benton Harbor Market,” said Greg Cardamone, general manager of L&M’s vegetable division. “The growers do a super job and people in the area are great.”

Michigan complements L&M’s own vegetable acreage in the Southeast.

Ben Kudwa to retire from potato group

After 26 years as executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Potato Industry Commission, Ben Kudwa will step down, likely after an interim period in which he will work part time and mentor his successor.

A search for Kudwa’s successor began March 17 and will conclude June 8, Kudwa said.

The commission will decide at a meeting in June whether to endorse Kudwa’s plan that he work part time for a year after his successor has been hired.

“It’s been viewed by a number of people as the way we should go,” he said of the plan.

Kudwa, who turns 65 in September, said it was the “right time” to step down.

“I’ve reached the age where a younger guy would be more effective,” he said.

After his retirement from the commission, or even while he’s still in the proposed part-time mentoring role, Kudwa would like to continue working for another organization or company, likely in the potato industry, on a part-time basis.

Joe Pirrone sells shares in Pirrone Produce

Joe Pirrone has sold his shares in Mussey, Mich.-based Mike Pirrone Produce Inc. but plans to remain with the company as a salesman.

In April, Pirrone sold his shares to his longtime co-owner, Butch DeBlouw, and DeBlouw’s son Henry DeBlouw, Butch DeBlouw said.

Butch DeBlouw, formerly secretary and treasurer, succeeds Pirrone as president, and Henry DeBlouw is the company’s new secretary and treasurer.

Pirrone’s current plan is to stay at Pirrone Produce as a salesman for the next three years, Butch DeBlouw said. He also will help with employee training.

Also this year, the company has added a new building, new packing machinery and new harvesting equipment for eggplant and other vegetables, DeBlouw said.

A new item on tap in 2012 is pink pumpkins, to ship this fall in conjunction with breast cancer awareness month in October, DeBlouw said.

The company is one of a handful in the country to ship the pink-hued pumpkins, which weigh about 14 pounds and are flatter than conventional pumpkins, DeBlouw said.

Pirrone Produce expects to ship about 65 to 70 loads.



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