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Food Safety, Immigration Reform and the 2007 Farm Bill Are the Big Three Issues

The Tomato Magazine
April 2007

By Sandy Lindblad Lee

During his tenure as chairman of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA), Jay Taylor’s drive to make a positive impact on the future of Florida agriculture stems from a more personal source. In addition to his 30-year entrenchment at the heart of the state’s fresh tomato industry, he is building on a family tradition of leadership in the FFVA which goes back to the organization’s infancy.

“My father (Jack Taylor) was on the organizing committee for FFVA when it was started,” he explains. Since its formation in 1943, FFVA remains “the leading voice of Florida agriculture,” Taylor emphasizes, while quoting from the organization’s motto. Taylor also is chairman of Taylor& Fulton, Inc., a Palmetto-based growerpacker-shipper operation marketing fresh tomatoes year round.

Taylor is an enthusiastic FFVA supporter. The association has a strong reputation and enjoys an infl uential position in unifying and directing the future of the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, both statewide and nationally, he says.

“The FFVA, Western Growers Association, Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association are the dominant produce organizations in the country,” he notes. “And in Florida, the FFVA, without doubt, is one of the most effective agricultural organizations.”

Major Issues
Three primary issues impacting agriculture today are food safety, immigration reform and the 2007 Farm Bill, Taylor says. Addressing the three are the association’s top priorities.

“ ood safety is a key concern that must be addressed nationally,” he stresses. “We need to come up with a way to respond to that need in the most effi cient and cost-effective way.”

“We are audit-exhausted,” he frowns, summing up the feelings of many as they face ongoing compliances with mandated requirements issued from a multitude of private and government-affi liated sources. This fatigue continues to resonate through all levels of the produce distribution chain, he says.

“We need to develop more long-term, efficient monitoring solutions that help ensure the delivery of a healthy, safe product to consumers,” he says, stressing that food safety needs to be more than a marketing hook.

At the same time, Taylor hastens to emphasize the critical importance of efficient product trace-back.

“We can trace our tomatoes back to the specific box in which they were packed,” the FFVA chairman adds. “We can even trace back to irrigation records in specific fields.”

While there are ongoing efforts from lobbyists and organizations to influence what may be included in the 2007 Farm Bill, Taylor says he’s observed unprecedented support for specialty crops from Mike Johannes, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Such has not been the case with his past predecessors.

“We’re going to have a very different seat at the table during this round,” he adds. “As a farmer, it’s wonderful to hear the U.S. Ag Secretary take more interest in the importance of fresh produce.

“Fruits and vegetables represent over 50 percent of the production value in this country, but grain crops get 95 percent of the federal funding,” he points out. “We have a very divergent group that is working to help pump more money into market access development and other tools to help us do a better job.”

In his role as FFVA chairman, Taylor plans to do his part to help direct a positive course for the fresh produce industry. He is aided by wisdom and input from one of the men who helped the organization get started over 60 years ago. Although Jack Fulton died in 1996, his infl uence on both the FFVA and the tomato business he founded are expected to continue.

Extensive History in the Business
Taylor’s family history in fresh produce dates back before the organization of Taylor& Fulton Inc.

“My dad had been a fruit and vegetable inspector,” Taylor recalls. When given the opportunity to lease a packinghouse in Palmetto from Max Cohen, the original owner, Jack Taylor and friend Pete Fulton took the fi rst step in starting their own business.

Founded in 1953, Taylor & Fulton’s Palmetto operations are headquartered on the original location in Palmetto. Over the years, however, much has changed.
In 1970, Pete Fulton decided to retire. At that point, Jay Taylor’s brother, John, was already running a family farm. John joined the company in 1967.

Soon after he earned his B.S. degree in business administration from the University of Miami, Jay became involved with the operation.

“We didn’t actually buy this building until the mid-70s,” Taylor remembers.“ Since then, we have bought up the neighborhood” surrounding the original real estate to accommodate several expansions for increased effi ciencies and for the addition of the Roma tomato operations.

The original warehouse was rebuilt in four different stages. “During the tear-down process, we decided to keep parts of the original wood floor intact,” he smiles. Those sections of that original flooring now provide added cushioning for the packing machines when the lines are running.

In 1971, Taylor & Fulton became the fi rst tomato company to build and provide employee housing for its workers. Presently, Palmetto has over 130 units.
Taylor’s commitment to housing for agricultural employees led to his eventual appointment to the board of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the housing authority for the state of Florida. During his tenure on the board, over $155 million in funds were invested in improvements and additions for the state’s farm worker housing.

Taylor & Fulton took its initial step to becoming a year-round tomato supplier when a Virginia operation was added. Jay Taylor had spent fi ve summers working for Jim DiMare in sales at Byrd Foods in Parksley, Va. This was prior to the company’s Eastern Shore investment in the mid-1980s, which extended its seasonal tomato production and distribution through the summer. The most recent expansion to the Eastern Shore division was the addition of a Roma tomato packing facility four years ago.

Closing in on the target of providing uninterrupted tomato supply availability to customers, Taylor & Fulton added its north Florida packing and shipping division in 1989. Although the company operations were originally housed at the State Farmers Market in Quincy, Fla., they were later relocated to a state-of-the-art packing facility acquired from Pacific Tomato Growers.

The dream became a reality when Taylor & Fulton owners took the defi nitive steps to accomplish their ultimate goal. In 2003, Jay and John Taylor, along with Ed Angrisani, their sales manager, purchased 50 percent ownership in Tomato Man Inc., an Immokalee, Florida operation. Their investment in this winter production region in south-central Florida provided closure of the remaining tomato production windows.

In June 2005, the Taylors and Angrisani bought the remaining half of Tomato Man from former co-owner Bill O’Quinn, when he retired.

With eight growing seasons in four locations, “We are uniquely and strategically located to effi ciently complete our year-round deal,” notes Taylor.

Company Continues to Evolve
Today, this progressive company, which maintains a well-earned position amidst the list of the leading tomato organizations in the country, continues to evolve. In late November, prior to the kickoff of this winter’s packing season, added improvements were made at the Immokalee packing facility. Upgraded equipment was installed, and the facility was refurbished from top to bottom. More than half of the ripening and refrigeration rooms now have new refrigeration
systems. Tomato Man’s bin system was also improved, and now uses all plastic macro bins. The company’s chlorination and hot water rinsing system were also upgraded. Updated Primuslabs.com food safety certifications were another upgrade.

Production was also added from this region when Tomato Man added two Immokalee-area growers to its two established growers this season, Taylor reports. When Immokalee’s tomato season winds down in April, spring tomato production resumes in the Palmetto-Ruskin region and continues into early June.

“Our biggest change here recently has been the purchase of two large ranches in the area,” Taylor says. These are expected to provide more growing options.
On the heels of Palmetto’s spring production, tomato harvest is underway in Quincy through the end of June.

At that point, Taylor & Fulton switches its central operations to Virginia, with production, packing and distribution through July, August and September. “We also grow wheat and soybeans in Virginia, along with winter wheat with no-till as a second crop,” the entrepreneur says. This is accomplished through Tri-Co Grain, a subsidiary of Taylor & Fulton Inc. Following the October switch back to Quincy, the November and early-December tomato supply base shifts back home to Palmetto to complete the year-round cycle.

In any of its four packing locations, Taylor & Fulton has “in excess of a 100-car capacity for ripening and refrigeration,” Taylor points out, “and we can pack more than 60,000 packages per day.” Whatever the growing region, Taylor & Fulton’s dedication to quality tomatoes runs deep. Taylor believes optimum growing conditions are a requirement for yielding the best-possible product, and the company considers drip irrigation a mandatory step in the process.

Among the fi rst Florida tomato growers to implement this method, Taylor & Fulton began its commitment to drip in 1982. All of the company’s fi elds now utilize this effi cient, water-saving technique.

© 2007 Columbia Publishing

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