Just as the key produce players from around the world gather in Berlin for Fruit Logistica, Panama Golden Pineapple will be harvesting the first fruits of 2019. 51 hectares were planted in December, and “late this week we start harvesting what we planted in 2018,” says Paul Vergara, COO of Panama Golden Pineapple.
Panama Golden Pineapple Ready for Fruit Logistica
Pineapple takes roughly a full year to develop, which is why an equatorial location like Panama is ideal for growing. While there is a dry season and a rainy season, the pineapple can be planted and harvested throughout the year. “Everything is planted in stages, so everything we planted last year is in a different stage of development,” Paul explains. “Some of it is fruit, some of it is flowering, some is in the development of plant biomass, and all that stuff just keeps growing. As we staged it, we’re going to start harvesting based on that schedule. At the same time, we’re planting the 2020 harvest, so it’s an ongoing thing. We’ll have fruit pretty much every week this year.”
The continuity of supply is key to securing a market for the pineapple. What most people don’t understand, Vergara explains, is that at events like Fruit Logistica, “They’re evaluating farms really, not pineapples. We can say it’s a slightly better pineapple in terms of shelf life and sugar content . . . [but] they’re looking for the right farm with professional management, that knows what they’re doing, that can ship them every week.”
PGP is known for high quality MD-2 Golden Pineapples, but it is really the history of the Vergara family’s success that sets the farm apart. “We have that experience [that they’re looking for] from the 20+ years that we’ve been doing pineapple,” Paul says.
Paul’s mother, Edna Vergara started farming in 1977 on a single hectare of land. Originally a poultry farmer, she experimented with exotic fruits and vegetables, and in 2002 she lobbied the Panamanian government to introduce Golden Pineapple seeds, which can sustain the travel to foreign markets. Edna developed the first fruit pack house in the La Chorrera area, achieved a Global Gap Exporter Certification, and in 2007 was the first female awarded Panama’s Agriculture Person of the year award.
This family history drives PGP and attracts new business. “There are packhouses in the area, and even in Costa Rica, that have gone out of business in 10 years,” Paul says. “So we’ve been in the business for a while.”
With additional resources, Panama Golden Pineapple is fusing the knowledge of family history with growth towards the future. “We are bringing back into the farm, many things that we couldn’t before because we didn’t have the resources,” Vergara explains. “The fact that now we’re partnering with [Farmfolio]. We’re running a family farm, but in an institutional way.”
As he interacts with potential partners and clients at Fruit Logistica, Vergara has found that most have seen enough pineapple fields to know a well-managed farm by sight. Photographs and videos reveal healthy plants of varied development, weed-free fields, well-maintained equipment and roads, and that means a lot to a keen eye.
“You can show them some pictures of how the farm looks, how the fruit is coming along, and try to convince them that you’re going to be with them for the entire year,” Paul reiterates. “It’s not one container sale. It’s a program type business, where you develop a relationship with someone and you’re shipping them all year long.”
When it comes to pineapple great flavor and appearance are expected, but reliability and reputation are the key to business success. Thankfully, as Farmfolio and PGP travel to Berlin, the Vergara family name will lead the way. From there, Paul says, “It’s just about building the existing relationships and developing new ones at the show—that’s what we’re going to try to do.”