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Impressive operation at Gem’s partner in Arkansas, Triple M Farms

Gary Margolis, owner and president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc., headquartered in Boca Raton, FL, told The Produce News that its Arkansas growing partner, Triple M Farms, is a fourth-generation family-owned operation and a partnership between the Meeks and Moffatt families in Milo, AR.

“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,” said Margolis.Untitled-attachment-00002Three generations of Meeks family members: James Sr., James Jr. (right), co-owner of Triple M Farms, and his son, Nick. “Gem Tomato has worked with Triple M for decades in a very strong partnership.

“Triple M is a very busy place in June and July,” he continued. “They are running three production lines of tomatoes and Bell peppers every day. It is highly impressive to see this operation in action. They have the highest possible level of efficiencies.”

Last year Triple M acquired its Primus Labs Global Food Safety Initiative certification. Margolis boasted that the company jumped through hoops to become certified, and it passed with a very high score.

Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales is H-2A foreign labor certified. Margolis said that it is expensive and complicated, “but it enables us to get the job done,” he noted.

Last year was an exceptional season for Gem Tomato’s Arkansas tomato crop, and the company had outstanding success.

“This year, following a couple of seasons with relatively early starts, we’re back to about normal,” said Margolis. “We’ll be harvesting from about June 10 to June 25. Although this is the historical normal time frame, the last couple of early seasons put us a little ahead.”wendell-in-tomato-fieldWendell Moffatt, co-owner of Triple M Farms, the Arkansas growing partner of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales, in one of the company’s Arkansas tomato fields.

He added that the company has always focused on its traditional Arkansas window, finding that it works better.

Earlier plantings put the crop at frost risk, and later plantings can be damaged from too much heat.

Margolis also noted that everyone in the Midwest appears to be back to a normal start, or even slightly behind because the late cool and wet spring delayed development of the plants.

“We typically end between July 15 and 20 in Arkansas, which is normal,” said Margolis. “If we don’t stick with this schedule it can cause overlaps with other growing regions, and that can kill a market. Our strategy of sticking with our schedule has always worked for us. We gamble enough as growers; we don’t need to gamble with seasons.”

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

“Constantly rising production costs are a fact that every grower, everywhere in the world, deals with today,” said Margolis. “I’ve worked with some of my growers for 30 years, and I always tell them that economics will level the playing field. The highly efficient farmers will succeed, but the smaller ones may not make it. There will simply be fewer growers in the future. It’s plain hard to grow a field tomato and make a profit.”

He added that there is nothing as delicious as a ripe field tomato in season, and it gives the product a strong specialty niche in the marketplace.

“The challenges that growers face would appear insurmountable to consumers who enjoy them,” Margolis 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. You have to commit 110 percent today or you won’t make it.”

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

Arkansas, he pointed out, has the first summertime vine-ripened field tomatoes available, and people look forward to that fresh tomato when the weather is warm.

Gem Tomato’s acreage mix in Arkansas this year is about the same as it has been in the past: 70 percent round tomatoes and the remainder in Roma tomatoes.

“The Arkansas climate is extremely good for high-quality Bell pepper production,” Margolis pointed out. “Our crop satisfies some regional demand. Triple M Farms’ packing facility updates are really helping us to push out some great product.”

He added that the company is optimistic and it expects its Arkansas crops to yield full volumes of high-quality products this season.

“Our growers are due all of the credit,” he said. “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 production in the spring and summer seasons, when consumers most appreciate the fresh flavor.

The company set out to cultivate relationships with like-minded farm families that recognize and accept the complex challenges facing the farming industry today. This strategy has been highly successful for the company.