“We are just about to get started in the next week with our season,” said John Hurley Neer at Rene Produce LLC in Nogales, AZ, Nov. 14. Mr. Neer, who is in charge of business development at Rene, is based in North Carolina but covers the country for the company.
“We have increased acreage on all items” for the 2012-13 season and have added, for the first time, organic Roma tomatoes, he said.
Until last year, all of Rene’s products were conventionally grown, he said. last year, Rene started into the organic side of the business with a small test program in Euro cucumbers. “That did well, and we are expanding upon that this year,” with an increase in the Euro cukes as well as with the addition of the organic Romas.
The company has increases in acreage across the board for its conventionally grown products this year; however, the amount of product being grown in open fields has been reduced as “more of our products are being grown in greenhouses and protected agriculture,” Mr. Neer said. In fact, “the only items we are growing outside now are bell peppers.”
Rene’s conventional product line consists of green and red bell peppers, eggplant, vine-ripe beefsteak tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, slicer cucumbers and Euro cucumbers.
“Everything looks very good to start with,” Mr. Neer said. “We are excited about how the fields look at this point.” Most of the company’s vegetable items should be in production by Thanksgiving, he said. Tomatoes will be coming along shortly thereafter. “Romas will start the middle of December, and our round tomatoes will start the beginning of January.”
Overall, the season for Rene’s products will extend through May, he said.
In addition to bringing products from Mexico into Nogales, the company will also be going through McAllen, TX, with some of its volume. “It will be our third year at crossing product through McAllen,” Mr. Neer said. “The Texas distribution is helping us reach the East Coast with fresher products” and is helping cut down on freight expenses. “That is a growing part of our business.”
Food safety and traceability have been important areas of focus for the company. “We have had traceback to the case level for the last three years,” Mr. Neer said. “We took a position to have that in place many years ago, and it still exists, so we have our traceback capabilities already in place.”
On the food-safety front, “we are SQF-certified in food safety” at the packinghouse and warehouse level and for the farms, he said. “We have SQF 2000 for our warehouse and packing facility as well as well as SQF 1000, Level 3, for our farms.”