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North Carolina’s Cottle Farms packing first Florida fruit under its own label this season

Cottle Strawberry Nursery Inc. in Faison, NC, has been in the berry business for three generations. This year it will enter the Florida blueberry deal with its own “Cottle Farms” label for the first time.

“We’ve brokered berries here for years but this will be our first year being in control of the fruit and picking where we want to go and when and how,” said President Ron Cottle.

The decision to get into the Florida blueberry deal was easy, Mr. Cottle said.

FLBLues4Third-generation berry grower Ron Cottle in the fields with some of his crop. Cottle Farms grows and sources berries from multiple regions and is packing Florida blueberries under its own label for the first time this year. (Photo courtesy of Cottle Farms)“After going through the Chilean deal everybody is ready for fresh berries. Especially this year they had some really bad weather in Chile which has caused some quality issues,” Mr. Cottle. “It’s just a great window to open the door and get started — it’s such a key role starting off with the first fruit of the year in the U.S. We’re putting our label on it because we’re proud of it and we want to show what can be produced down here. A lot of our chains are wanting to go direct, direct, direct and they want to feel like they’re part of our operation. It’s important for us to keep our chain of growers and stores all together.”

Excellent weather had some Florida blues coming off in late February, Mr. Cottle said.

“We’re running some fruit and kind of fine-tuning everything,” Mr. Cottle told The Produce News in late February. “We’re ready to go, it looks good, we packed 65 boxes this morning to tune the machine. We’re excited and ready to bring this thing along. Everybody’s on us ready for Florida to start. That’s why Florida appeals so much to us, it really opens up the domestic season. What we packed here this morning was just beautiful.”

Cottle Farms Nursery develops and markets berry cultivars and is the umbrella organization that covers all Cottle operations. The business started through relationships Mr. Cottle developed in college. His roommate’s family was in the blueberry business; another friend was in plant biology.

“We’ve been producing fruit a lot longer than that but that’s when the label and the brand incorporated. My granddad grew strawberries for the market and put them on train cars to send to New York and New Jersey, my dad got into the strawberry business and did some of that and put U-pick farms all over and that’s where it started to grow, with farms in Georgia, South Carolina — everywhere. That’s what I grew up in,” Mr. Cottle said. “One of the biggest problems we had was getting plants that weren’t infected. I had friend in college who was in plant biology. We started a business of tissue culturing plants and selling strawberry plants and that just worked phenomenally.”

Flash forward two decades and “now we’re one of the leading nurseries here on the east coast for strawberry plants,” Mr. Cottle said. “I’ve certainly had my failures and I certainly learned from them, but I’ve been blessed.”