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Pioneer Growers adds five to its cooperative

pioneerPioneer Growers is a grower-owned cooperative that concentrates on bringing in quality growers that fit into the groups’ offerings and helps to expand on its year-round production.

Recently, the Belle Grade, FL-based company added five new local growers to the mix—Agra Products, a Clewiston, FL-based grower; Growers Management Inc., a Belle Glade-based leafy green and sweet corn grower that supplies Romaine, escarole, butter, endive, red leaf green leaf, cilantro and parsley; Hardee Fresh, a 50,000-square-foot indoor organic leaf and herb grower based in Wauchula, FL; GTO Farms from High Springs, FL; and Clover Grass Produce from Windsor, NC.

“These additions ensure we can provide year-round quality produce and diversify our growing regions to help fight weather disruptions,” said Stewart Mann, general manager of Pioneer Growers. “As a team, Pioneer Growers is looking for growth, both in sales and in members. We would like to continue to add to our product offerings.”

Mann, who recently took on the position of general manager, noted his goals are to create a cohesive work environment where employees are proud to work, bring the best quality produce to customers and be an advocate for the company’s cooperative of growers.

“Through our cooperative of growers, we have the flexibility to work with customers to plan and provide to their individual and very specific needs,” he said. “Success starts at the farm level; we have a great group of farmers that care. Not only are they good farms, but they are great stewards of the land. Our team at Pioneer Growers take great pride in everything we do, and every person on our team plays an integral role in our overall success.”

The company also recently added 40-year vet Jimmy Usher as its packing house/production manager for the 2020-21 season and also promoted some long-term key employees into managerial positions.

“We are focused on supplying our customers with the best quality produce. We have streamlined our processes and procedures for more production due to increased demand in our tray pack division, making sure we deliver everything our customers need when they need it,” Mann said. “We implemented a new food-safety program with increased education for all of our team members, more detailed SOPs, cleaning materials and technology for food-safety and cold chain.”

When the pandemic hit, Pioneer Growers was ahead of the game, having built a brand-new facility three years ago designed with food-safety in mind.

“We increased our cleaning and sanitation crews to twice a day, we educated team members of proper personal hygiene and how we can help slow the spread, we reviewed and switched many of our cleaning and sanitation chemicals and tools to better combat COVID-19,” Mann said. “All in all, I would say it has increased the amount we have to spend in order to keep everyone safe.”

Since COVID-19, it has seen a big push for packaged products, and that’s an area the company has been in for more than 30 years.

“We offer four-tray pack and a bag line to service our customers,” Mann said. “Among our offerings are tray pack sweet corn, bagged green beans — both snipped and not — and radish in six- and eight-ounce and one- and 40-pounds. We work with great suppliers to deliver the best quality packing materials all from the United States. We also offer private labeling for customers interested in putting their own spin on packaging.”

Looking ahead, Pioneer Growers hopes to expand over the course of the next year through market penetration, product development and diversification.

Photo: Stewart Mann and Jimmy Usher

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