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Arkansas tomato harvest off to early start with excellent quality, extra-large fruit

Gary Margolis, owner and president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc., headquartered in Boca Raton, FL, said that the Arkansas tomato crop is about 10 days ahead of schedule, and with excellent quality and yields.

“Starting production prior to the normal production period could have been more difficult were it not for the outstanding quality and abundance of extra-large fruit we have this season,” said Mr. Margolis. “Our growers are due all of the credit. They are some of the best in the business. Success begins foremost with quality. That has always been the focus of our business, and our grower-partners share the same commitment.”

For more than three decades, Gem Tomato has focused on regional tomato productionDSC 0297Wendell Moffatt, a partner in Triple M Farms, with Gary Margolis, owner and president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc. in the spring and summer seasons when consumers most appreciate the fresh flavor. The company sought to cultivate relationships with like-minded farm families that recognize and accept the complex challenges facing the farming industry today.

“Our Arkansas partner, Triple M Farms, is a four-generation, family-owned operation and a partnership between the Meeks and Moffatt families in Milo, Arkansas,” said Mr. Margolis.

Triple M’s owners, James Meeks and Wendell Moffatt, have been lifelong friends and are partners who have left the antiquated tomato auction system and opened a state-of-the-art facility. Gem Tomato has worked with Triple M for decades in what Mr. Margolis said is a strong partnership.

“They have spent the winter months upgrading their facilities in preparation for Primus Labs GFSI [Global Food Safety Initiative],” he said. “We jumped through hoops to get prepared for this certification.”

The GFSI audit was conducted on June 7. Mr. Margolis said that he feels certain that the company passed with a high rating, and they were awaiting receipt of the certificate when he spoke to The Produce News on June 11.

He also pointed out the degree of challenges that tomato growers like Triple M Farms face today.

“These challenges would appear insurmountable to the consumers who enjoy the products,” he said. “There are always weather-related risks, expensive and time-consuming food-safety requirements, immigration and farm labor laws to abide by, and continually rising production costs. It takes a tremendously high level of commitment from them in order to be successful.”

He also said that growers today had better know who their customers are before they put the first plant in the ground.

“The ‘build it and they will come’ adage doesn’t work today,” said Mr. Margolis. “Producers who grow fresh produce assuming that customers will just come are taking an enormous risk. The interest in local sourcing has the potential to falsely entice growers to plant additional acreage. This can easily result in a lack of management that leads to regional gluts with oversupply and consequent depressed prices.”

He added that Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales tries to help its growers to plan their production from one region to the next.

“We know there will be overlaps, but we try to help smooth that out,” he said. “It takes effort to best plan acreage in areas in order to avoid oversupply. We do this through communication with our growers right up the regional line. It’s not an exact science, but we are highly conscientious about staying in our windows and not stepping on others’ toes.”