Oct 26, 2010
Growing vegetables, winning awards

John Hundley knows a thing or two about growing sweet corn and vegetables. The North Palm Beach, Fla., grower has been farming for more than 44 years and currently works 15,829 acres of land, that he either owns or rents. He’s a veteran of the fresh produce business who operates farms in both south Florida and south Georgia.

“We had very good harvests in Florida this year,” Hundley said. “It was a very good year. Our main challenges were the weather and regulations from the government.”

As a result of his success as a vegetable farmer, Hundley was selected as Florida’s 2010 winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year.

“I cannot remember a time I wasn’t involved in farming,” Hundley said. “As a child, I spent time with my father on his farm. I drove tractors in my teens. I graduated from the University of Florida in 1965 and then worked for my dad on his farm.”

His dad retired in 1969, before Hundley could farm in partnership with him. That year, Hundley and his wife formed Hundley Farms Inc. They farmed 400 acres with their first crops of sweet corn and radishes.

“I started with $25,000 in equipment and a $25,000 loan co-signed by my father,” he said. “When we started, our operation was small for south Florida, but from there, Hundley Farms has grown into the business it is today. I’m fortunate and will be forever grateful to my parents for giving me the tools to build this company that has been such a blessing to my family.”

Hundley started farming near Bainbridge, Ga., in 1990, where he grows sweet corn and green beans among other crops. There, he is the president of Pioneer Growers Cooperative. Hundley’s a member of other organizations, too, including Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, Western Palm Beach County Farm Bureau, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Georgia Sweet Corn Growers Exchange and Florida Sweet Corn Exchange.

Why farm in two states? Harvest timing to meet market windows is critical to success in the produce business, and there’s not much overlap in Hundley’s Georgia and Florida operations. The off-season in Georgia usually coincides with the harvesting and shipping season in Florida.

Hundley’s wife of 46 years, Patricia or “Patsy,” serves as secretary-treasurer of his farming company. Their son John is production manager at the south Florida farm. Their daughter Krista works in accounting for the farm. Krista’s husband, Eric Hopkins, works as the farm business manager.

“We’re a family farm, and I’m big on family participation,” Hundley said.

The land Hundley operates in both states includes 8,338 acres of rented land and 7,801 acres of owned land. His major crops last year included 8,154 acres of sweet corn, 3,973 acres of sugar cane, 738 acres of green beans, 1,440 acres of radishes, 156 acres of celery, 110 acres of squash, 762 acres of peanuts and 504 acres of cotton, he said.

With all of that land invested in crops, keeping costs down is a must. One of the techniques Hundley employs is the use of global positioning systems (GPS) to plant vegetables, to ensure that fertilizers and other inputs are not wasted. This has lowered his costs while producing higher yields, cleaner water and healthier soils, he said.

“Through laser leveling, crop rotation, precision fertilizer application with the GPS and good water table management, we decreased the phosphorus leaving our farm and slowed the rate of soil subsidence,” he said. “We’re ensuring our farm will be sustainable for future generations.

“What’s next? Economically sound, efficient expansion and diversification of crops as well as a transfer to the next generation.”

By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor

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