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Carrots are king at Gerralds
Bulloch farm will process 40 million pounds in 2009
Carrott Web
Jamie Brannen, a partner with Gerrald Farms in Statesboro, is shown at the farm's carrot processing plant on Clito Road off Highway 24. - photo by JAMES HEALY/staff
     Known for its sweet Vidalia onion production, Gerrald Farms on Highway 24 East in Statesboro has quietly become one of the largest producers of carrots in North America.
      Partnering with a farming operation in Canada three years ago, Terry Gerrald and his partner Jamie Brannen formed GBH (Gerrald, Brigas, and Hall) Carrots, in order to supply carrots to the marketplace year round.
      "When you try to sell produce such as carrots, buyers want you to supply them throughout the year," Brannen said. "We can only grow carrots in this area for six months, and they can only grow them in Canada for six months out of the year.
     Conversely, they are grown year around in California which is where the vast majority of carrots were being grown. By combining our two growing seasons under one 'corporate roof' so-to-speak, we became a year round supplier to the marketplace."
      Brannen said that Georgia and Canada have opposite growing seasons for the most part.
      "Our Canadian counterparts harvest carrots from August through December," he said. "We harvest from January through the first part of July. It works out great."
      Brannen said the Canadian arm of the business had the sales contacts, so the Gerrald side was just responsible for growing the carrots themselves.
      "We knew that we wanted to grow carrots in Georgia to give our company carrots to sell throughout the year," said Dan Hall, who is from Canada and a partner in GBH. "Gerrald Farms came highly recommended. We came down here for a meeting and three hours later, we were ordering equipment. It was insane, but a great move. This has worked out tremendously well."
      Hall oversees sale of the carrots splitting his time between Keswick, Canada and Statesboro. "People warned me that it gets very hot down here, but they don't understand how cold it is in Canada. Just when things become unbearable there in January, I come down here when we switch over to the Georgia product. I think it works out pretty well."
      Ownership within the original partnership has changed. The Bigras entity has been purchased by Olyphant, Pennsylvania based Michael Cutler Company, owner of the Great American Carrot Company. Cutler has built a separate processing plant at Gerrald Farms.
      "There is a part of the carrot that we did not have the equipment to process," Brannen said. "It is called the petite part which is the small, peeled tips of the carrots. Cutler put their own plant in here to process those. We supply them, and they process, bag and ship them to their own clients. There is no waste out here."
      Gerrald said the Statesboro farming and processing operation was orginally established to produce "plugs" which can best be described as the part of the carrot which is roughly 7/8 " in diameter and just above the base of the carrot.
      "Plugs are used in bagged salads and as carrot sticks in restaurants," Gerrald said. "But the operation expanded based on the type of carrot being demanded, and a lot of what we supply now is what is called 'cello' carrots or bagged whole carrots like you would purchase in the produce department in the grocery store."
      Brannen said the Bulloch County operation will process over 40 million pounds of carrots this season with around six million of those being turned over to Cutler to make petite carrots.
      "The reason we decided to put the petite carrot plant in Statesboro was because of the taste of the carrots being grown there in addition to the cooperation and working relationship with Gerrald Farms," Cutler said. "It has been a win-win so far, and we hope to expand sometime in the future."
      Gerrald's carrot processing operation employees 60 employees spread over two shifts per day running 6 days per week. The Cutler operation employees the same number. Both plants reinforce the importance of agriculture to Bulloch County's economy.
      "Sometimes we tend to forget that agriculture is sort of the backbone of our local economy," said Peggy Chapman, president of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce. "Agriculture employees a lot of people in this county, and it is extremely important. Gerrald's carrot operation is a great example of that. Right there is an additional 60 jobs."
      Both Brannen and Gerrald said they are surprised in a way that they have been this successful. They also said they didn't realize what a capital investment it would be when they started.
      "When we go into it, and I'm glad we did, we really didn't realize the amount of infrastructure that would be involved," Gerrald said. "It has been a major investment, but it has paid off. I'm almost glad that I didn't know ahead of time. I might not have done it, and that would have been a mistake."