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US: Backyard Farms rips up, replants entire crop due to white fly invasion

According to the Bangor Daily News, Madison based Backyard Farms, which grows 27 million pounds of tomatoes a year in its greenhouses, last week began to rip up its entire crop of half a million tomato plants in an effort to eradicate an infestation of white flies.

The decision to replant its entire crop means the firm’s tomatoes, marketed as Backyard Beauties at supermarkets such as Hannaford and Shaw’s, will be unavailable until late October, according to Michael Aalto, a spokesman for Backyard Farms.

The company employs 200 people, and will not lay off any workers as a result of the decision to rip up the plants and clean out the greenhouses, Aalto said.

Aalto would not reveal how much the decision will cost the company, or whether the company had insurance to cover the destruction of its crop. But there’s no doubt such a business decision will affect the company’s bottom line, according to John Mahon, a professor of business at the University of Maine.

“No manager on Earth wants to turn the switch off,” Mahon said. “No one makes that decision lightly.”

The long-term consequences, however, shouldn’t be too harmful for the company, Mahon said. While most consumer products companies would tremble at the idea of taking their products off the market for three months for fear of competitors stealing their market share — think Coca-Cola versus Pepsi — Backyard Farms is somewhat immune to that scenario, Mahon said.

“People are going to switch in the interim, but the thing that helps Backyard Farms in this case is that when you come to December and January,” it’ll be the only source for Maine-grown tomatoes, Mahon said.

Aalto said the company did not delay its decision to rip up the crop until Summer arrived. It was just a convenient coincidence.

“The fly issue had been taking place for a relatively short amount of time leading up to the cleanout,” Aalto said. “The timing where we made a decision to do a cleanout happened to coincide with the Summer time frame.”

While it will inflict short-term pain on the company, any long-term consequences of the crisis will be mitigated by the fact that the company’s largest customers have pledged continued support. Spokesmen from Hannaford, Shaw’s and Whole Foods Market all said the grocery stores would start buying from Backyard Farms when the operation is producing tomatoes again.

Two factors make Backyard Farms a competitive option compared with tomatoes shipped from out of State: Its electricity is basically subsidized by the town of Madison, which has its own electric utility, and it’s within a day’s drive of all these stores, meaning the tomatoes are fresher and the transportation costs are less. Plus, there’s the added benefit of marketing Backyard Beauties as Maine-grown.


Source: Bangor Daily News

Publication date: 7/22/2013

 


 

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