Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Packing house opening near Brooksville just in time for blueberry season

BROOKSVILLE — A former egg farm soon will be stained with blueberries as a Michigan-based farm begins operating it as a packing house.

Crews recently moved into the 20,000-square-foot building, said Tim Spiech, chief operations officer for Spiech Farms based in Paw Paw, Mich. Pronounced like "speech," the farm specializes in blueberries, grapes and asparagus in southwest Michigan, Georgia and Florida. The new packing operation is on Ayers Road near the Hernando County Airport Industrial Park.

The operation was located in Tarpon Springs, but its lease was due to expire. Company officials considered a site in Hudson but ultimately settled on the property south of the city limits.

The packing operation serves about eight area farms from Hudson to Inverness and Webster but with a larger facility is seeking to expand.

A big selling point it uses is an accounting system that it describes as "real time and online."

Workers picking berries wear badges with bar codes that identify the grower. The codes are scanned by Bluetooth scales in the fields. The scales feed information directly to the online application.

Growers can then access the information and see how much the picker is to be paid, as well as how many pounds have been harvested.

Spiech said the process, which has been under development for four years, is unique to Spiech Farms. It removes the guesswork of figuring out returns.

"This used to be done by hand," he said. "Now the grower sees what he's getting."

Spiech said the company leased the facility for two years and then will evaluate whether to stay.

The move comes right before the start of Florida's blueberry season, which runs from late March or early April to mid May.

Florida's six-week season is short compared to other parts of the world, but it kicks off the season for the United States. It enters the market right after Chile, a huge producer, and just before its northern neighbor, Georgia.

This year's harvest is expected to reach about 25 million pounds, according to freshfruitportal.com.

Local growers also report a healthy harvest.

"The crop is looking fantastic," said Tony Harris, who grows berries on 5 acres of his family's Ergle Christmas Tree Farm north of Dade City. "We're just hoping the birds aren't too bad this year. I don't want to mention it too much and jinx myself."

For Brooksville, the announcement that Spiech Farms chose the area for its operations couldn't come at a better time, economic development officials said.

"It's perfect timing with the Blueberry Festival right around the corner," said Valerie Pianta, Hernando's supervisor of economic development. She said the county looks forward to working with Spiech as its sets up shop.

"It's so good to see that building getting filled," she said. "It's a perfect match."

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