Saturday, December 7, 2013
Backyard Farms, which had to destroy its entire tomato crop earlier this summer because of a whitefly infestation, said Friday that its new crop of 420,000 seedling plants did not meet its quality standards so it will have to start again.
Tomatoes ripen inside a greenhouse at Backyard Farms in Madison. The company rejected its latest crop of 420,000 seedlings because of unspecified quality concerns. Earlier this summer, an infestation of whiteflies cost it its first crop.
2009 Morning Sentinel file photo/David Leaming
The decision means Backyard Farms won't have tomatoes in stores until early next year and it will have to furlough some employees. Backyard Farms typically produces more than 27 million pounds of tomatoes each year in greenhouses that cover 42 acres in the western Maine town of Madison.
"Our new crop did not meet our high quality standards and we have made the decision to reject the plants and begin again," said Backyard Farms in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, this means our replanting process will be delayed and we expect our tomatoes will be available at the beginning of the year."
In July, the company said an infestation of whiteflies in its greenhouses had forced it to destroy its entire crop and start again. It hoped to have a new crop of tomatoes in stores in October, but now the produce won't be available for several more months.
Backyard Farms said the substandard seedlings never came into its recently cleaned greenhouses. They were rejected because of unspecified quality concerns. The company would not name the vendor that supplied the plants, but said it is looking for a different grower to supply the next crop.
The company grows tomatoes year-round in glass-enclosed greenhouses. It grows plants hydroponically, in a nutrient solution rather than soil.
Backyard Farms said it has explained its latest problem to retailers. The farm ships tomatoes across the Northeast to retailers ranging from Hannaford to Whole Foods to Walmart.
A spokesman for Hannaford said the grocery chain, which has carried the grower's tomatoes since Backyard Farms started in 2007, said it plans to carry them when they become available again. Backyard Farms grows varieties including cocktail and tomatoes on the vine.
Until now, Backyard Farms has retained its roughly 200 workers. But with less work to do over a longer time, it said it will have to furlough an undisclosed number of employees.
"We will initiate furloughs for certain employees beginning after Labor Day. We fully expect to call back all employees on an as-needed basis, some as early as October, as work activity increases," the company said.
The company said it will pay its contributions to the furloughed employees' health insurance, and provide "return payments" when workers come back to the job. Each payment will be based on the length of time a worker is off the job.
The company, which is privately owned, would not comment on the cost of its lost crop.
The Boston Globe reported that Backyard Farms is owned primarily by employees of Fidelity Investments. The mutual fund's executives have invested an estimated $70 million in the business, the newspaper said.
Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: