Doug Walcher Farms is boosting its bell pepper volume this summer from greenhouse facilities in Willard, Ohio.
After experiments with the crop last year, up to 35 acres of peppers will be in production in 2014, said Ken Holthouse, general manager of North Fairfield, Ohio-based Doug Walcher Farms and chief financial officer of Holthouse Farms.
“Two years ago we quit raising our own plants because we couldn’t do it efficiently and converted the greenhouse to bedding plants and flowers for one of our other businesses,” Holthouse said. “Then last year we converted one greenhouse to raising peppers, and found out we could raise them just as cheaply as we could buy them. So this year we quadrupled our production there.”
The company has created a germination chamber for its pepper transplants, which it hadn’t done in the past.
“They came up so fast that we could have planted those 10 days later,” Holthouse said May 23. “The plants are very healthy, big and ready to go. For us that’s a good sign, because we can make the planting date later and spend less money and energy in the greenhouse.”
The bell peppers are grown by and for Doug Walcher Farms.
Steve Holthouse, co-owner of Holthouse Farms, oversees field operations for items including bell and specialty peppers, summer squashes, cucumbers and eggplant.
“We are behind at the moment on planting of, for example, peppers and cucumber seeds and yellow and summer squash seeds,” he said in late May. “It’s been a bit wetter and cooler than normal.”
Summer squash acreage will be up about 25% over last year.
“We had such demand that we couldn’t satisfy all the customers,” Holthouse said. “The last couple years, we’ve sold out more than we’ve had extra. So we’ll go up a little. It doesn’t take much of a change in supply to change demand. We don’t want to just double everything because we think last year we could have sold it. Everybody could have sold more last year, because the weather was so bad in Ohio.”
In Ohio the last week of May is the desired target for initial harvests, he said, but warming trends often bring product on rapidly soon after.
“Three years ago we got out late, by the middle of June, and had the best crop we had in 10 years,” he said. “It all depends on what the weather does after you get out.”
Holthouse Farms has the benefit this year of a new 5,400-square-foot addition to the back of its packing shed. Food safety coordinator Robert Holthouse suggested improvements that eliminated mixing inbound field product with finished product.
“It was an open-air kind of canopy, and now it’s all closed in,” Ken Holthouse said. “So once the product comes into the building, it doesn’t have to leave. We rearranged the incoming operation to get more efficient workflow for food safety, production efficiency and employee safety. We had forklifts crossing paths for raw product and finished product.”
He also plans a solar energy installation, though details were not yet settled.
“We’re seriously considering solar power as a way to help the sustainability position of our company,” Holthouse said.