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Dandrea Produce expecting some crop damage by Hurricane Irene

Dandrea Produce Inc. in Vineland, NJ, was in assessment mode over the damage caused by Hurricane Irene as of Aug. 30, according to Frank Dandrea, president of the company.

“Notably, we’ll have some damage on squashes, peppers and cucumbers,” he said. “A huge amount of water fell over the state, washing out row crops, roads and dams. It’s going to take some time to assess the total crop loss or damage.”

He added that these items cannot stand a lot of water, and fields got seven to eight inches in a very short period of time. Disease and fungus pressures are a real concern. And these problems surface as plants are trying to recover, meaning it could be some time before the full extent of the loss is known.

The early greens that were just coming up at Dandrea Produce were washed out by the rain. Mr. Dandrea explained that some of the leafy crops can be replanted, but that puts a glitch into program time frames and can cause shortages throughout the fall, which is a very high-demand time for New Jersey leafy greens.

“This is a very expensive proposition,” said Mr. Dandrea. “You prep the ground, buy and plant the seeds, do all the labor, and then in one day you lose your entire investment.”

The company was fortunate to not have lost power at its facility, however. Mr. Dandrea said that it maintains a fairly large inventory and it was concerned about not being able to keep it cool.

“If our early guesses are right, you’ll probably see some erratic supply gaps in the early part of the New Jersey fall program,” he added. “Theoretically, we have to wait to see how much volume is lost to know if it will affect prices. We typically start with greens the third week of September and run strong through Thanksgiving. Some fields may be okay, which would mean some supply coming on, then a void, followed by more supply.”

Dandrea Produce has established farming operations in areas to satisfy the demand for local produce. Locally grown means distribution is closer to the harvest, and that translates into fresher produce that has a higher nutritional value when it reaches grocers’ shelves.

“It also helps to keep fuel costs down, which is good for the environment,” Mr. Dandrea added. “This is in keeping with our company’s green initiatives. And it supports the local community and keeps people employed.”

The company is fully Primus and Good Agriculture Practices certified. It initiated its GS1 Conformance & Certification program on June 20, which began with its Navel and clementine movements out of South Africa.

Dandrea Produce is expanding its office space to close to 5,000 square feet to accommodate its growing staff. Mr. Dandrea said that the company is up by about 20 percent in staff members, and he anticipates it will continue to increase.

It’s all about the environment and good health today,” he said. “And we are promoting this to our staff. We have put a new, nearly commercial-style gymnasium with all the latest equipment in our facility. We also have a chef who comes in to cook one meal a day for our internal staff of about 30 people. We welcome everyone to join our family in improving and maintaining good health by using the gym and participating in the meals — which will have our produce incorporated into them.”

The company also has increased its value-added bagging options by adding packinglines to be used for citrus.

“We also put in lines for peppers, squashes, cucumbers and eggplant,” said Mr. Dandrea. “Packing here in our climate-controlled facility centralizes packing of our farms’ or satellite farms’ produce. Product is harvested in RTC containers. It comes into our facility, is cooled, packed and put into the cooler. We do everything here in order to control and ensure quality. We’ve been adding lines continually to keep all control under our own roof.”

Dandrea Produce is also at the forefront in its food-safety initiatives with Primus certification and Good Agriculture Practices certifications.

“We continue to have good customer and supply bases, and we’re consistent in quality and volumes,” said Mr. Dandrea. “We’re all in the same canoe, and we need to row together so everyone has their margin and so that our relationships with growing and retail partners stay strong and business is fair for everyone.”

He said that New Jersey greens would run from September through Thanksgiving. “Some fields should be okay, so we’ll see some supply,” he said. “We’re having a very good year. Sales and profits are up, and that computes to securing more consistent supply. Our operations are stable in terms of our sales and warehouse staff, and once we get over this storm hump, we’ll move forward as strong as ever.”