When he got into the peach farming business in 1990 in Madison, Fla., people would tell Chalmers R. Carr III that he couldn’t be both a volume grower and a quality grower.
Carr didn’t buy it. He knew all along that the key to success was to go big and grow, while emphasizing quality every step of the way. It was a strategy he put into play when he got started in Florida and continued in 1995 when he moved to Ridge Spring, S.C. to manage the R.W. DuBose & Sons peach farm. In 1999, Carr and his wife Lori Anne worked out an agreement to lease the farm from Clark DuBose and changed the name to Titan Farms. In 2001, they completed a buyout and assumed full ownership.
“We developed and expanded our first farm in Florida and sold it at a profit and used that money to buy this farm,” the first generation farmer explains. “We took what we earned and reinvested it. We’ve managed to pay off debt and have established a good line of credit and we now represent one-third of the southern peach commercial industry.”
Carr grew Titan Farms, which now stretches across 20 miles, by planting new acreage with new varieties and by acquiring two nearby farming operations. Since 1999, they have grown the operation rom 1,500 acres to nearly 6,000 acres. Today, they grow peaches on a little more than 5,300 acres and broccoli and bell peppers on 800 acres. Titan Farms is the largest producer of peaches, bell pepper and broccoli in South Carolina and is the nation’s second largest peach farming operation.
Titan Farms has customers from Texas to Chicago and Maine to Miami. Canada and Mexico have become important markets for exported fruit. The East Coast is the company’s largest market, with Titan Farms serving as the largest supplier to such retailers as Walmart, Harris Teeter and Wegmans.
Carr acknowledges that running an operation that large certainly has its challenges, but by focusing on increasing yields and stressing quality while emphasizing employee training and retention, he is able to succeed in a big way. Precision agriculture, integrated pest management systems and effective marketing are critical components as well, he says.
“We take a team approach in everything we do,” Carr explains. “We believe in a family atmosphere. When we make a commitment to hire someone, it’s through the good times and the bad times. Sometimes, Mother Nature deals us a blow, but I’m going to make sure our employees still have a paycheck to take home. I am very loyal to each one of my employees.”
Carr credits his employees for ensuring that Titan Farms is both a high quality and high quantity peach producer. “Any success we have begins and ends with our employees. Everyone here has ownership in the products we grow, harvest and ship. We firmly believe our investment in employee training and support programs pays enormous dividends in product quality and yield,” he says.
Building customer relationships a key move
As another step toward complete vertical integration for the company, Carr brought produce sales for the operation in-house to build closer relationships between customers and the Titan brand. “The addition of this team has improved communication with our customers and we look forward to being able to serve them better throughout the season.”
A key role of the marketing team will be building on retailer relationships to increase consumption of Titan’s peaches. “We’re looking for ways to make peaches more appealing for consumers to eat because they have so many choices available. There are 200 other commodities they can choose from, everything from nectarines and grapes to mangos and avocados, so we’re trying to influence these new customers and their buying decisions,” Carr says.
Carr adds that there is great upside potential for peach consumption because surprisingly, only 34 percent of the population actually eats peaches. “Our marketing team is focusing on ways to reach younger generations and “foodies” who enjoy dinners out as much as researching recipes and cooking at home. We are making connections with these customers through social media, e-cookbooks, retail store visits, point of sale materials and unique packaging options designed specifically for customer appeal,” he says.
Good employees and marketing are vital to Titan’s success, but Carr stresses that innovative farming practices and precision agriculture technologies are key to continued growth and success. “Precision agriculture makes us more efficient,” he explains.
“Being a first generation farmer, I didn’t have someone telling me this is the way we’ve always done it, so we have been very open to adopting state-of-the-art technology across the entire operation,” he says.
Carr uses GPS technology to guide his equipment for land excavation and dirt leveling and to lay out his peach and especially his vegetable fields. “Precision agriculture also allows us to water 5,000 acres of peaches from a laptop computer in a truck, with a smartphone or from my desktop computer,” he says.
Through the use of a soil moisture probe, Titan Farms was able to reduce its water consumption by 40 percent, saving a half million dollars in diesel fuel in one year. “I am proud to say we don’t waste water. Three years ago was a very dry year and because of careful management of resources, we never ran out of water.”
Titan Farms uses smart sprayers to apply crop protectants to the crop. “This machinery utilizes sensors, like radar, that can detect if a tree is present or not. If a tree is not detected, the sensor powers off the applicator saving us about $400,000 per year in input costs,” Carr says.
Carr is hopeful for this year’s peach crop despite a March 29 freeze that hit the farm six days after full bloom. He anticipates about a 20 percent loss this year. “I’ll be very happy with an 80 percent crop. Last year on March 27, we went to bed thinking temps would only drop to 28 degrees or so. The dew point actually dropped to 21 degrees and we lost the entire front end of our crop which, overall, equated to a 40 percent crop loss. In one night, the trees on fifteen hundred acres of this farm were left with absolutely no peaches. That can really hurt you,” he says.
Most recently, Carr was named as the recipient of the inaugural Bayer CropScience Produce Innovation Award presented in February at the 2015 Ag Issues Forum hosted by Bayer in Phoenix, Arizona. He and his team were honored for their achievements in improving product quality, innovative farming practices, increasing market demand, supporting consumer education on health benefits and increasing the accessibility of produce to more people.
“We don’t seek out awards, but this one is quite an honor,” Carr says. “It’s also one more way for us to promote and market the Titan brand.”
Carr says he is in the peach business to stay and he will continue to find ways to expand. He’s been in the business virtually his entire life, starting out working on his uncle’s farm in his home state of North Carolina throughout high school and college.
“I love waking up each morning anticipating the day ahead. No two days are just alike. There are many challenges in growing, packing, and shipping a crop of peaches, pepper and broccoli and the dedication and hard work of our employees makes it all the more rewarding. There is a lot of satisfaction in what I do every day and I wouldn’t change a thing.