Aug 20, 2015Mississippi grower awarded for on-farm activities
Mississippi vegetable grower Allen Eubanks was recently selected as his state’s winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He was nominated by Patricia Knight of Mississippi State University‘s Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, who said Extension agents from different counties recommended Eubanks for the award.
According to an expo press release, Eubanks is a fourth-generation grower from Lucedale, Mississippi, who specializes in hand-picked vegetable crops. He owns three major enterprises: Eubanks Produce, the main vegetable-farming business; Charlie’s U-Pik, a pick-your-own venture; and Farm Fresh Gourmet, a startup company specializing in creative recipes and value-added canning and preserving.
Encompassing about 2,800 acres, Eubanks Produce is one of the largest vegetable farms in Mississippi. Last year, he grew 136 acres of cantaloupes, 850 acres of watermelons, 150 acres of bell peppers, 92 acres of tomatoes, 100 acres of cucumbers, 120 acres of squash, 240 acres of sweet corn and 600 acres of soybeans. This year, he planted his first sweet potatoes on 175 acres, according to the release.
Eubanks is very active in his industry, and keeps abreast of the latest farming technologies and techniques. He has served on the boards of the George County Co-op and Southern Ag Credit, and on the USDA Farm Service Agency state committee. He’s a member of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association and a state agritourism organization. He has also been a member of the National Watermelon Association, Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association, according to the release.
“We have also used our watermelon shed to serve a Farm-To-Table dinner for our community,” Eubanks said. “We planned the menu based on what we grew on the farm, and raised $3,000 to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.”
The farm also is involved in a Farm to School program that furnishes local produce for school meals, according to the release.
“We try to appeal to a diverse customer base in a variety of ways to encourage consumption of fresh and healthy produce,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks utilizes coolers and air conditioning to keep his crops chilled before they’re shipped. Global positioning systems help him establish crop rows and allow for precision spraying, land leveling and drain tile installation. He uses drip irrigation, which saves water and leads to fewer plant diseases. He also plants into plastic mulch. He uses black plastic for spring crops and paints the plastic white for the fall season, according to the release.
Eubanks samples plant tissue to pinpoint nutrient needs and also samples his soil for nutrients twice yearly. He analyzes his well water once per year. He also conducts pesticide residue tests on each crop at least once per season, according to the release.
“All produce can be traced to the production field, the harvester and harvest time,” he said.
Eubanks hires about 300 H-2A guest workers to harvest his crops. He usually does his own marketing rather than relying on industry brokers, and ships much of his produce in returnable plastic containers, according to the release.
Eubanks’ father, Charlie, manages the 120-acre Charlie’s U-Pik. Consumers pay $10 for a 5-gallon bucket of tomatoes, according to the release.
“Charlie’s U-Pik gives customers direct access to locally grown produce,” Eubanks said. “It also capitalizes on the agritourism movement by introducing youth to agricultural crops and production methods.”
Eubanks started Farm Fresh Gourmet to add value to his crops. He built a commercial kitchen to develop new recipes and assemble the food creations. Successful products so far include green tomato relish, pickles and strawberry pepper jelly. Sales have been good at local farmers’ markets, where Eubanks looks to expand distribution, according to the release.
“I was born into farming,” Eubanks said.
One of his first jobs was making sure the truck carrying soybeans seed stayed up with the planter. He grew watermelons as a teenager. After graduating from Mississippi State University, he returned to the farm and began the transition from agronomic crops to vegetables, according to the release.
Eubanks’ wife Janice is the office manager and oversees accounting. She introduced hand-held computers for use in the fields to keep track of piece-rate harvests – which helped reduce payroll-processing times. She also helped install a wireless network so u-pick customers can make credit card purchases, according to the release.
“Janice makes sure we comply with the Produce Traceability Initiative and Good Agricultural Practices,” Eubanks said.
They have four children, sons Andrew, Joshua and Jacob, and daughter Allison. Their older children help out on the farm, and have shown some interest in perhaps taking over one day.
“We want to give our children the opportunity to come back to the farm if they are interested in doing so,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks will join nine other state winners as finalists for the Southeast farmer award. The overall winner will be announced Oct. 20 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia.