Backyard Farms brings employees back, expects tomatoes to hit shelves in January

Posted Oct. 21, 2013, at 1:41 p.m.
Backyard Farms employee John Duggan of Canaan transports cases of freshly picked &quotBackyard Beauties," the farm's premiere product, in this 2009 file photo.
Backyard Farms employee John Duggan of Canaan transports cases of freshly picked "Backyard Beauties," the farm's premiere product, in this 2009 file photo. Buy Photo

MADISON, Maine — Backyard Farms, the commercial tomato grower that was forced this past summer to rip up half a million tomato plants, has brought back nearly half its furloughed workers and expects to have tomatoes back on grocery store shelves by the beginning of 2014.

The company, which last year produced about 27 million pounds of tomatoes in its 42 acres of greenhouse space in Madison, expects to complete the replanting of its entire crop of half a million tomato plants by the end of the week, Michael Aalto, a company spokesman, told the Bangor Daily News. As a result, it is back to employing between 60 and 70 people, he said.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Aalto said. “We have about half the new crop planted, and are getting the second half of the crop planted this week.”

The commercial grower was forced in July to rip up its entire tomato crop because of a white-fly infestation. At the time, it expected to have a new crop planted and tomatoes back in stores by late October, but delays related to the quality of a replacement crop forced the company in August to furlough an unspecified number of its 200 employees and push back the restart date.

The number of employees will increase incrementally over the next few months as the crop becomes ready to harvest, package and ship to customers, Aalto said. The employee total should be back to roughly 200 by January, he said.

A marketing push will coincide with the return of its tomatoes to grocery store shelves, though Aalto said the company isn’t worried about concerns that it lost market share during its absence.

“We’re not concerned with losing market share because our customers have been very supportive in this period,” he said. “We continue to stay in touch with them. We didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re having some issues. We’ll be back next year.’ We’re in regular communication with them.”

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