– Pioneer Growers Cooperative –
For more than 50 years Pioneer Growers Cooperative has been known for its dedication to product quality, service, and food safety. It’s one of the largest distributors of sweet corn in the industry as well as a provider of quality green beans, radishes, celery and cabbage.
The cooperative was founded in the summer of 1950 when a small group of local farmers came together to establish a marketing cooperative to handle and market their fresh vegetables. Over the years, it has grown from its roots in Belle Glade to include acreage in Southwest Georgia and working arrangements with growers in California. It also began expanding into western New York this summer.
Leafy greens and celery were the cornerstone for Pioneer during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, with corn in a distant third. In the late 1980s, with the advent of new super sweet corn varieties, corn became the cooperative’s primary product.
In 1992, Pioneer Growers began processing and packaging sweet corn rather than only selling in bulk. It now leads the industry in tray-pack corn.
Today, Pioneer Growers is one of the largest distributors of sweet corn in the world, growing more than 13,000 acres annually. In addition to sweet corn, it grows more than 6,000 acres of green beans, radishes, celery and cabbage, which it sells to chain stores, wholesalers and terminal markets.
“Our customers are mainly located in the Eastern Seaboard, New England and the Midwest,” said Jon Browder, sales manager based in Belle Glade but currently in Bainbridge, Ga., for that region’s harvesting season. “We sell the packaged corn under the Green Giant label. We mainly do that in Florida, but we also have a partner in California that packs the Green Giant label for us. We offer the packaged corn 52 weeks a year out of Florida and California,” he said.
Pioneer Growers harvests its vegetables from Nov. 1 through June 1 in Florida, moving up to Georgia to continue with sweet corn and green beans from June 1 to July 10. It also grows beans and corn in Georgia during September and October.
Pioneer is made up of three main growers and several smaller farms in Florida along with three to four growers in Georgia.
Browder pointed out that the cooperative grows only non-GMO vegetables. “All of our growers are aware that we grow strictly non-GMO corn,” he said. “Every year we get more and more phone calls about that. It’s a concern for some people, so we figured it’s best to go with the flow and offer only non-GMO corn, beans, radishes and everything else we grow.”
The cooperative’s most important issue is weather, Browder says. “If it’s raining too much, we get swamped. We get frozen out at times in Florida. That always plays a big part in the market and how we are able to supply our customers.”
Browder says this year has been fairly good for volume and sales. “We had a decent year in Florida – a lot of volume. I don’t think it was as we wanted it to be as a whole, but during the Memorial Day holiday it picked up. Unfortunately, Georgia been kind of sluggish,” he said.
One of the areas of its operation that Pioneer Growers is most proud of is food safety. Browder said the food safety team works continually with growers, harvesters, packinghouse employees and management to ensure that best practices are in place. It has received excellent food safety certification ratings for its tray-packed corn, green beans and cabbage.
Learn more about Pioneer Growers Cooperative by visiting its website or by calling the Belle Glade office at 561-996-5211 or the Bainbridge location at 229-243-9306.