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Dan Graiff Farms adjusting as Jersey spring produce gets underway

graiffdan Dan Graiff Farms was handling a small amount of New Jersey product the first week in May, and was looking at a "big variety" of items in good volume by the end of the month, according to Jamie Graiff, owner of the company, headquartered in Newfield, NJ.

He was also adjusting to the COVID-19 situation to make sure that his company was best able to fight the many ways that the pandemic had affected so many facets of life across the region and the country.

Regarding the 2020 New Jersey spring produce season, Graiff first talked about the preceding winter and early spring.

"We didn't have much cold throughout the winter — only a few days here and there that [temperatures] really got down low," he told The Produce News Tuesday, May 5. "So most likely insect and disease pressure is going to be up this year, depending on what the weather is like going into" the upcoming weeks.

As far as timing of the crops is concerned, "We try to keep our normal plant schedules," he noted. "We didn't jump in too early." The company tries to avoid cold snaps or having stuff sitting in the ground too long, "which isn't good for the seeds," he said. "There were a few times here and there that it was warm, [and you want] to get the tractors running. You get that itch, but we didn't do it."

So as of the first week in May, the company was harvesting "some over winter cilantro and some new bunched arugula. "Just a little bit of harvesting," as he put it.

"We're in the ground. We don't try to start too early, we don't plant for the early spring. I think we're on track. We're about a week away from a lot of new crops."

Looking toward the end of the month, Graiff said that "by the end of May, I would say we're going to be into cilantro, dill, the different herbs, possible some bunched kale, swiss chard. We have a big variety already planted."

He added, "The wind has been the biggest problem. Nothing crazy, but the wind's been an issue. Temperatures have been somewhat decent."

Asked how the COVID-19 situation was affecting things at the business, Graiff replied, "Food safety has always been a big part of it. But with this pandemic, there's definitely been a lot of changes, just with volumes going through. Even in the fields we're practicing social distancing. Food safety programs have always been way up top, but we are making sure that we implement as many policies inside and outside of the facility to protect our workers and our product."

On the topic of sales and business in general during the pandemic for Dan Graiff Farms, which was founded in 1980, Graiff noted that "foodservice is way down. Before the pandemic, foodservice was 75 percent of our sales. But our retail is up probably 50 percent, maybe a little more. But our foodservice is probably down by 60 percent, maybe 65 percent."

Since the COVID-19 situation began, the company has been working to increase its retail sales to try to make up the lost foodservice sales, as so many restaurants were forced to close or just offer takeout. "So total sales now are maybe 30-35 percent down over all just by adapting the way we did," he explained.

"My nephew Scott is out in the fields with my cousin Kyle; they're on the production side. That allows me to stay inside and work with my nephew D.J. on the sales side. And I can put a lot of time into the food safety part of it. Although we were always there, now we're even going farther to stay ahead of the curve. We're limiting people coming into our office, just to protect our workers here and protect our workers inside the facility as well."

Regarding the company's transportation component, "We got our tractor-trailer on the road for deliveries up into the New York, New Jersey area," he said. That's in addition to the two straight trucks already delivering to stores. "We actually started a new logistics company to handle those trucks," called Graiff Logistics LLC, he announced.

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