Jun 16, 2011
Florida strawberry operation expanding acreage

In 1997, Jay Sizemore and Marvin Brown founded JayMar Produce, one of the largest strawberry operations in Florida.

JayMar is based in Wimauma, a little south of Florida’s traditional strawberry-growing region around Plant City. Sizemore, 62, grew up on a family strawberry farm near Plant City. There wasn’t much land available for new strawberry ventures by the late 1990s, so Sizemore left the family farm and moved south, where he joined forces with Brown. A few years later, Dean Broughton, another strawberry grower, joined them as a third owner, Sizemore said.

JayMar Produce is the sales arm of the company, which ties together three farming entities on about 1,900 acres of land. Besides 600 acres of strawberries, the farms grow cantaloupes, watermelons and juice oranges, he said.

As for strawberry varieties, JayMar focuses on Treasure, Strawberry Festival and Florida Radiance, but is also dabbling in some proprietary varieties. The berries are sold fresh, to major retailers up and down the East Coast. Sales have been going well, Sizemore said. They plan to add another 100 acres of berries next year.

Strawberry harvest runs roughly December through April in Florida. JayMar harvests more than 1 million flats per season. Cantaloupes are harvested from April to June, according to JayMar’s website.

At peak harvest times, the company has about 600 employees working. Getting the right amount of workers at the right time is always a challenge. So is getting the right amount of product to customers at the right time. Sometimes there aren’t enough strawberries; sometimes there are too many, Sizemore said.

In the last couple of years, getting access to water for irrigation and frost protection has been more difficult. The permitting process is more arduous than it used to be. Pests and diseases are always a battle, too, he said.

JayMar does its own packing and shipping. In 2003, the company built a state-of-the-art storage facility, with 22,500 square feet of pre-cooling and cooling space. The facility’s technology allows it to cool product quickly and efficiently, thus improving shelf life. All compressors are controlled by computer, and temperatures are monitored 24 hours a day with remote capability, according to the website.

When growing produce, JayMar follows Good Agricultural Practices; its food safety program is audited by Primus Labs, according to the website.

For more information, visit the JayMar website.

By Matt Milkovich

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