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Northampton Growers expects good North Carolina crop despite dry weather

Northampton Growers, headquartered in Cheriton, VA, expects a good crop in both volume and quality from North Carolina this year. Calvert Cullen, president of the company, told The Produce News that despite a little dry weather in the region, the crops are faring very well.

“With proper irrigation, there should not be any problems,” said Mr. Cullen. “Everything looks to be on schedule, and quality wise the crops look good.”

Northampton follows the growing seasons north each year, starting in Florida and then moving to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and then to Michigan before starting its return back south again in October.

“We’ll start cabbage on May 20 in North Carolina,” said Mr. Cullen. “Green beans start on June 1, along with squashes. Cucumbers come on two weeks later, and peppers will start between June 20 and 25. Most of our other crops will be coming out of the ground right after July 4.”

When North Carolina’s crops wrap up, the company continues to move north, finishing the summer with its Michigan program. Mr. Cullen said that after that deal is finished, the company starts again in the Carolinas in mid-September.

The summer holidays put added demand on some North Carolina crops. Mr. Cullen said that Memorial Day is big, as is July 4 on some items.

Northampton Growers participates in a few locally grown programs in the states in which it produces. North Carolina’s “Goodness Grows in North Carolina” and Virginia’s “Virginia Grown” programs are strong. Mr. Cullen said that the company also has some locally grown deals in Michigan.

“People are buying closer to home when possible to help offset the fuel costs associated with pricing today,” said Mr. Cullen. “But it’s still a seasonal deal. When buyers can’t procure from local sources, they have no choice but to move outside of their areas for supplies.”

Founded in 1959, Northampton Growers has growing operations and offices in Fairfield, NC; Moultrie, GA; Norman Park, GA; Hastings, FL; and Boynton Beach, FL. The company’s extensive line of produce includes peppers, cucumbers, squash, green beans, cabbage, leafy greens and onions. It sells to chainstores, wholesale and terminal markets under the “Mattamuskeet” label on items produced and shipped from the Fairfield growing region. Products from other areas carry the “Plantation” brand. The company’s customers are primarily major retail chains, foodservice operators and wholesalers.

Over the past 50 years, Northampton Growers has evolved from a two-person operation to a company with more than 30 full-time staff members. Mr. Cullen and Steve McCready are co-owners; Ray Nunnally and Rick McCranie are sales associates. Pete Napolitano also works in sales, and he oversees quality control. Mr. McCready is the company’s comptroller.

The challenges of the produce industry are the norm for well-established companies like Northampton. Mr. Cullen said that although they are closely related, it’s fuel price increases that are causing a major pinch with growers today, rather than the economic downturn. “Everything from manufacturing boxes to operating the tractors in the field is fuel-operated today,” he said. “And when fuel prices escalate the way they are currently, we feel it from every direction. Banks are tight today. They just aren’t loaning the way they used to. Some growers have cut back on their acreage. Northampton has not been affected by the reduced acreage, but we are seeing other companies feeling the pinch.”

Northampton had strong Georgia movement this year, and Mr. Cullen said, “We’re hoping that the good weather keeps moving north with us. If that happens, we’ll have a non-stop supply of high-quality produce throughout the spring and summer movements.”