Bland Farms is a new player in the New York-grown onion deal, but its entry doesn’t mean New York’s onion acreage has suddenly increased.

Instead of building an entirely new organization and planting new acreage, Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms Inc. purchased the assets of Zappala Farms LLC, Cato, N.Y., in mid-April and created Bland Farms New York LLC, Cato. For now, the operation continues with few changes. Jim Zappala, who was president of Zappala Farms, serves as general manager for the new company, and about 10 Zappala employees continue to work there, said Michael Hively, chief financial officer and general manager of Bland Farms.

“We’re excited with the people that we brought on from Zappala’s organization,” Hively said.

The $4.1 million transaction added nearly 1,800 acres in New York to Bland Farms’ assets, about 1,000 of which are planted with sweet onions, Hively said. The purchase included ownership of the Empire Sweet trademark and label. Bland Farms will market Empire Sweet-brand onions with a label reading “grown and packed by Bland Farms.”
Zappala Farms filed for bankruptcy in February. Bland Farms New York will have the advantage of being part of a large corporation.

“With the size, there are lots of synergies and buying power,” Hively said.

Bland Farms is vertically integrated from growing to sales. Zappala used an outside seller to market its crop, but Bland Farms will market the New York crop itself. Bland Farms’ agronomy staff and management practices are likely to lead to other changes for the operation, Hively said.

Bland Farms plans to upgrade growing and packing processes at the Cato facility and ensure that it meets the corporation’s standards for quality and safety. The staff is working to achieve GAP and food safety certifications. As it does in other locations, Bland Farms uses Emeryville, Calif.-based Scientific Certification System’s NutriClean pesticide residue-free program in New York, Hively said.

Bland Farms plans to installing new bagging machines this season to meet GS1 standards. The machines should be on line before early August, when the company expects to begin packing Empire Sweet onions. Hively said Bland Farms works to be ahead of the curve on GS1 labeling and other innovations.

It takes time to learn how a newly acquired growing-shipping facility operates and to determine what might be done to improve it, Hively said. Troy Bland, son of Bland Farms’ president Delbert Bland, is working in New York this season and is expected to continue learning about the operations there. Troy Bland has worked in field management for Bland Farms and worked in the packing shed for Dowdy Farms, Reidsville, Ga.

Hively said Bland Farms New York expects to continue serving Zappala Farms’ customers with Empire Sweets.