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Laurel Farms Auction Market heading into new technology era in 2013

Laurel Farms Auction Market in Laurel, DE, is getting an early start on its operation this year. Calvin Musser, market manager, told The Produce News that this is not because product is coming on early in the region. In fact, product is running a little late along the entire East Coast due to the cool and wet spring.

“For 73 years we have been a pen and paper operation,” said Musser. “This year, for the first time, we are using a computer system. We want to be open a little early to smooth out any kinks and to make sure that the system is running smoothly long before movement is in full swing, so we’ll be open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting July 1. From there we’ll move to a daily operation as product movement warrants it.”

The move from three carbon copies of hand-written sales slips and receipts to a fully computerized system is also in timing with other changes at the auction. The former manager, Tom Wright, is planning to retire, and Musser was hired to replace him. Wright is staying on to help with the transition. His retirement and Musser’s new appointment was the inspiration behind the auction market wanting to do things a little differently as it heads into the future.

“The computer system will help us to be more effective and efficient,” said Musser. “And it will enable us to get more exposure. We handle a large variety of local produce and the computer system will help to entice people to come to buy our produce.”

Laurel Farms Auction Market is a true auction market. The primary commodity that runs through it is watermelons, but it deals in a full line of local produce. It is a cooperative with 10 members, and its season will run from July 1 through September this year.

Also new at the market is the development of a bin and large box lot area that is 60 feet by 100 feet.

“Sellers can set their product in the area and we’ll sell it the next day,” said Musser. “This means that drivers don’t have to sit in their trucks burning gas as they wait to have their products auctioned.”

Most buyers at the auction are independent retailers who pick up the product they buy, and it services one food bank in Washington, DC. Musser said that his strategy for the future is to entice wholesalers, foodservice operators, local farmers markets and small chain retail operations.

“Our abilities enable us to service a wide range of customers,” he said. “We can handle anything from a box lot to a tractor-trailer load. And we can fill any size order, from a consumer who wants a box of tomatoes to a retailer who needs a truckload of watermelons. The quality of produce we handle is outstanding, and we can handle unlimited volumes.”

This season’s produce in the region is looking good, Musser pointed out, but it may run a little late because of the earlier cool and wet weather.

“Strawberries are coming on heavy now,” he said May 31. “That’s a little late, but the fruit looks outstanding.”

Fruits and vegetables grown in the region are distributed to all areas east of the Mississippi River and into Canada. Laurel Farms Auction Market is a major and well-known hub for watermelons of all varieties and sizes. The watermelon season there will be in full swing by July 15.

“Some of our buyers have repacking services,” said Musser. “We are always looking for new distributors to come to the market. We currently have seven distributors, and six packing facilities that pack, load and deliver.”

All of the changes and upgrades at Laurel Farms Auction Market are inspiring some customers who once bought produce there but moved on over the years to return.

“We ask our customers what we can do to better service them,” said Musser. “We have the best-quality locally grown produce, and we can handle requests of any volume.”