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Northampton hoping Florida crops will help even out the market

Cullen-Calvert-2006
Calvert Cullen

“We are just getting started in Plant City, Florida,” Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers, headquartered in Cheriton, VA, said Nov. 1. “All Florida crops are planted. We’re harvesting a little squash and a little eggplant now, and we’ll start with cucumbers and hot peppers next week, but most items will start coming on in mid- to late November. Florida cabbage is a way off, with movement expected in December, as we have to get the majority of our Georgia crop in first.”

Northampton Growers follows the growing seasons north each year, starting in Florida and then moving north to Georgia, the Carolinas and then to Michigan before starting south again in October. Mr. Cullen said that as of Nov. 1, peppers, cucumbers, squash, green beans, eggplant, cabbage and hot peppers were still being harvested in Georgia.

“We’ll wrap up in Georgia in a couple of weeks, unless we get a frost,” he said. “We did have a little frost there the last week of October, and some frost at our North Carolina farms, where there’s still a little cabbage and some green beans remaining. But it wasn’t so bad as to cause a lot of damage in either location.”

Northampton knows well the benefits of growing in regions that provide good soil, ample sunlight and mild temperatures. But it is also too familiar with the challenges that come with growing in areas that are susceptible to tropical storms, hurricanes, unseasonal heavy rain and periods of drought. Over the years, the firm has faced just about every weather condition that has passed through the Southeastern United States.

This year the company lost 1,200 acres of crops in the Carolinas when Hurricane Irene hit in late August, leaving damage estimates of $10 billion-$15 billion dollars in the United States. alone.

“We were able to replant about 400 acres of green beans in North Carolina after the storm, but the rest of the crops were just lost for the season,” said Mr. Cullen. “Every area has its window, and you have no choice but to move on when that window is up for the season.

“The losses in the Carolinas caused some market pressure, with the biggest shortages being cucumbers and eggplant,” he continued. “The demand was very strong on Georgia’s crops as a result, and growers there were not able to meet it. That also caused prices to strengthen. But as Florida starts coming on, the market should ease somewhat.

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 line 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, NC, growing region. Products from other areas carry the “Plantation” brand.

Over the past half-century, 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.

“If frost conditions and storms stay at bay, allowing Florida crop to come on in good condition and with ample volumes, the market will even out and we’ll be heading into a good season,” said Mr. Cullen. “That’s the best that we can hope to have.”