Feb 10, 2017
Peri & Sons Farms achieves SCS certification

A growing onion farming operation based in Nevada continued to move up the charts as an industry leader in 2016.

Peri & Sons Farms has been growing, packing and shipping onions for more than 35 years. The company farms thousands of acres each year; selling over 350 million pounds of onions throughout the U.S. and across the globe. With a focus on food safety, the company previously earned the GFSI/GlobalGAP certification.

Peri & Sons Farms became the first domestic onion farming operation to achieve the Sustainably Grown certification from SCS Global Services (SCS). The certification awarded in 2016 also extends to the company’s certified organic vegetable farming operation.

David and Pamela Peri, owners, Peri & Sons Farms

The certification was issued by SCS in accordance with the producer requirements of its Sustainably Grown standard, which meets some of the world’s highest environmental, social and economic criteria. Achieving the certification through a stringent third-party audit requires a company-wide commitment to the mission.

“Undergoing this level of commitment to sustainability forced us to scrutinize and evaluate every aspect of both operations – from office to fields to packing sheds,” said Pamela Peri, executive vice president at Peri & Sons Farms. “We firmly believe that the overall benefits to our employees, our community and our customers will be well worth the investment in the long run.”

SCS has been providing third-party quality, environmental and sustainability verification, certification, auditing, testing and standards development for several decades.

“(Our) programs span a cross-section of industries,” said Stanley Rhodes, SCS’ founderandCEO.“SCS isaccreditedto provide services under a wide range of nationally and internationally recognized certification programs.

“We congratulate Peri & Sons Farms for this significant accomplishment,” Rhodes said. “Achieving the Sustainably Grown certification is by no means an easy task. This standard is based on comprehensive, science-based criteria aimed at minimizing environmental impacts and providing a safe and healthy work environment. By achieving certification, Peri & Sons Farms demonstrates that it has the processes and management systems in place to grow its products in a sustainable manner.”

Jagtar Singh, Peri & Sons’ chief agronomist, checks onion harvest tracking tag

At its organic operation, Nevada Fresh Pak, Peri & Sons Farms grows and ships certified leafy greens and an array of vegetables. The greens are shipped under well-known prepackaged salad brands as well as Peri & Sons Farms’ own “Nevada Fresh Pak” label as part of the company’s Locally-Grown Organics program.

“We are thrilled that the years of hard work and dedication have brought us to this point. Achieving SCS Global Services’ Sustainably Grown certification – one of the most rigorous, voluntary agricultural certifications offered – is just the beginning,” said Sara Brinkley, director of food safety and organic certification at Peri & Sons. “We will continue to demonstrate our commitment to upholding the highest levels of social and environmental responsibility, worker protection and product integrity in the years ahead.”

The farm’s philosophy spans back three generations. Even in the early days of establishing Peri & Sons Farms, before sustainability was a topical issue, David Peri understood the livelihood of the business, and of those who depended on its success, was directly tied to the health and well-being of the environment.

Teri Gibson, director of marketing and customer relations at Peri & Sons, sees the SCS certification as another good chapter for the business.

“As a company we are all about being proactive and transparent,” Gibson said. “It’s just part of our company culture to blaze trails rather than wait for industry mandates. We think that sustainability is becoming an important differentiator in the marketplace and we believe it adds significant value to our brand.”

Gibson said Peri & Sons Farms and Nevada Fresh Pak plan to remain committed to sustainable practices with the goal of meeting and exceeding produce-industry standards.

According to information provided by Peri & Sons Farms, the Yerington, Nevada-based business is one of the largest seed-to-store onion companies in the world, employing 200 full-time employees and 1,500 seasonal workers who come onboard for the eight-week harvest.

The Peri family-farming legacy dates back to 1902 when Constantino Peri and his two brothers immigrated to the United States from their native Italy.

According to Constantino’s great-grandson and third-generation farmer David Peri, his elders had a vision for the operation that grew in Lockwood and Yerrington, Nevada.

Out of six offspring, David emerged with the deepest interest in farming.

“There was never any question that I would go into farming,” David said in an interview found on the company’s website. “I remember when I was 12 years old, I begged my parents to let me quit school so I could move to Smith Valley and farm because my uncle was selling the ranch. I pleaded with them to let me go there and farm, and I cried every day when they said no.”

Upon graduating from high school, David, with support from his father and uncle, laid the groundwork for Peri & Sons Farms in Yerington.

The company grows yellow, red and sweet onions, with a focus on whites – its signature product.

“There’s no perfect growing area; we just work harder at it,” David said. “We hand-harvest everything; they don’t do that anywhere else. So we are spending more money to make a better product.”
He says hand-harvesting renders the onion “much shinier and prettier than a machine-harvested onion.”

David’s wife, Pamela, serves as the company’s executive vice-president. Two of their children also are involved in the business.

Pamela said the company has always been way ahead of the curve when it comes to progressive food safety, pesticide-free methods and sustainability practices.

“Long before it was in vogue, it was just David’s basic practice,” Pamela said. “We all try to take this positive perspective and I really think it’s the soul of the business.”

In a previous interview with Vegetable Growers News, Brad Johnston, chief strategy officer and general counsel of Peri & Sons Farms, said on-farm food safety audits are just one tool to ensure product grown and shipped by the company is safely making its way to customers.

He said the process begins with a company emphasis on a culture of food safety. Some of the factors revolve around product traceability.

“There are things we have to do and we are going to do to educate workers and devote resources to it,” Johnston said regarding evolving food safety requirements.

“We’re on top of it – we’re not catching up,” he said. “It has to start at the top and leadership has to develop a culture. Every guy in the field receives proper training and the proper resources that are needed. We have dedicated food safety individuals who handle the audits and other matters.”

Founded in 1979, Peri & Sons began growing and marketing organic white, red and sweet onions in 2005. It’s the primary product line the company has become known for today.

According to the company’s website, the organization’s acreage in Nevada alone has expanded several times, and original sheds have been replaced with state-of-the-art packing, shipping and operational facilities.

Growth continues to be fueled by year-round demand for Peri & Sons’ onions. In 2007, the company expanded its farmland footprint into California.

A multimillion-dollar packing facility located in Firebaugh, California, “emulates the highly successful clean-and-safe farming, packing and shipping practices – and the business philosophy – we first established in Nevada many years ago,” the website states.

Johnston said the company packs, grows and ships onions directly from its California farm from May to September, and does the same from its Nevada location from September into April.

“Most people do think of us as an onion grower, because we are one of the largest in the U.S. when we talk about fresh-market onions,” Johnston said. “We grow some conventionally, some organically; it’s a mix.”

Peri & Sons also grows a substantial amount of organic leafy greens, which are directly in the crosshairs of food safety regulators due to the fact they do not result in a cooked product and are being washed, packaged and shipped out, Johnston said.

Most of the third-party audits that surround the company’s practices are being driven by customer demands, Johnston said.

Developing a Culture

Peri & Sons Farms began practicing safe and healthy farming techniques long before there were national standards and formal certification programs, Johnston said.

“I go back to what (third-generation farmer) David Peri has sought to do with his wife, Pam, really identifying food safety a long time ago as something that was going to occur and something the market demanded,” Johnston said. “It does take an investment on your part as a farm in having that culture that says, ‘we are going to be best of practices in terms of food safety.’ When the audit comes, you’re ready and have all the paperwork.

“Your operations are compliant with what customers are requiring,” he said. “You can’t wait until just before an audit is coming, and say, ‘let’s get ready.’ It has to be something year round. Whether it’s a scheduled or surprise audit, you’re ready to do it and have practices in place.”

Gary Pullano, associate editor

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