Coastal Growers reduces acreage

Will Hales, president of Salisbury, Md.-based watermelon grower-shipper Hales Farms, said he is reducing his acreage by 100 this year, leaving a total of 700 acres.

Meanwhile, Coastal Growers, a group of watermelon growers based in Laurel, Del., of which Hales Farms is a part, will trim about 150 acres this year, Hales said.

The plan is to more effectively “manage the crop,” he said.

The growers also are working with new varieties, he said.

Acreage that remains will be divided into more manageable plots, as well, as a way to mitigate the risk of Phytophthora capsica, a disease that can affect a melon’s skin, Hales said.

To fight it, Hales reduced field sizes to under 30 acres each, he said.

“That way, instead of losing 50 acres if something occurs, we lose just 25 acres,” he said.

“The one thing about the watermelon deal, your input cost is probably around $2,500 an acre — could be higher — so if you start losing 50 acres at a pop, you’re going backwards fast.”

It’s a practical move, Hales said.

“We think we’re going to be happy with our decision,” he said.

Not all growers will subdivide their fields as he will, Hales said.


C&E Farms adds green bean bag

Cheriton, Va.-based C&E Farms Inc. is marketing a variable-weight unsnipped bagged green bean promoted as “Shorely Fresh,” said Bob Colson, the company’s president.

The partially closed bag is meant to replace the loose beans in the store, he said, noting that it focuses on customers who want convenience “but want a fresher product that does not have a processed look or taste.”

The product is shipped in 24-pound cases containing 16 1.5-pound bags. 

Colson said the format leads to “quicker turnover of stock,” which, in turn, “keeps product fresher and reduces shrink.”


Dublin Farms boosts audits

Horntown, Va.-based potato grower-shipper Dublin Farms is adding a Primus third-party audit to its food safety program this year, said David Hickman, vice president.

The audit is scheduled for early July, he said.

Previous certification programs remain in place. The Primus audit is just another level of certification, Hickman said.

“You can’t be too careful, and it helps from a marketing standpoint, I think, with the chain stores,” Hickman said.

“Food safety is on everybody’s mind these days.”


Fifer installs cooling equipment

Wyoming, Del.-based Fifer Orchards continues to add refrigeration capacity, said Curt Fifer, sales director.

“A couple of years ago, we added some new loading dock facilities and we’ve been growing into that, some more platform storage areas, and we’ve been updating our cold storage every year,” he said.

“We’ve been taking baby steps with cold storage, which is necessary in veg.”

This year, the company added a condenser and compressor, Fifer said.

“It’s not more square footage. It’s just better cold storage capacity,” he said.


Mar-Del group to elect leaders

The Mar-Del Watermelon Association, which represents grower-shippers in Maryland and Delaware, will elect a new president next February at its annual convention, said Kevin Evans, who is winding up his second two-year term as president.

New board members also will be elected, as they are every year, he said.

The board has nine to 11 members, and Evans said he will join the board after he finishes his term as president.

Traditionally, the vice president of the 150-member association is elected to serve as president.

That would mean current vice president Travis Hastings should get the nod, Evans said.


Papen Farms expands corn

Dover, Del.-based Papen Farms has added “a little bit of acreage” for sweet corn production and a new hydrocooler “to help cool the corn as we pick it,” said Richard Papen, owner of the family-run operation.

“It’s expensive but we hope worthwhile,” he said of the cooler, which has an eight-pallet capacity.

“It cost a lot, but we’re hoping over the years it will help us cool the product quicker.”