Highbury CanCo hires tomato farmers to feed Leamington plant
Several tomato farmers have signed contracts to grow for Highbury CanCo, the company that will produce Heinz tomato products in Leamington, Ont.
Wayne Palichuk used to grow tomatoes directly for Heinz, which will cease operations in Leamington in June.
He recently signed a contract to grow for Highbury CanCo, which is to become a co-packer for Heinz beginning at the end of June.
"It’s great. I have a younger son that wants to take over the farm. This is a good chance for him to carry on. It’s all positive," he said.
Palichuk will grow 100 acres of tomatoes for Highbury CanCo.
"That is just about full production for what we used to do for H.J. Heinz," he said.
Palichuk estimates there are 10 farmers who have signed on to grow for CanCo Highbury. That's down from the 43 who used to grow for Heinz.
"There are 43 excellent growers in the area," Palichuk said. "Their objective is to have them all back one day, maybe."
Sam Diab, president of Highbury CanCo and former plant manager at Heinz, confirmed the company has contracted 10 farmers.
Earlier in April, Highbury CanCo received a conditional one-year license to process tomatoes at the Heinz plant in Leamington. The company must still work out a final deal with the food giant to use its facility, which would otherwise shut down in June.
That deal has not yet been finalized.
Diab told CBC Windsor everyone involved, including Highbury CanCo, Heinz and the farmers realized tomatoes needed to be planted soon, so Highbury CanCo was willing to risk signing contracts with 10 farmers.
Heinz declined comment.
Pradeep Sood of Highbury CanCo did not immediately return calls placed by CBC Windsor.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers said in a newsletter last week that Highbury CanCo has signed a 2014 tomato agreement that ensures the company will pay its tomato growers the same price as those deals reached with all other Ontario tomato processors.
More than 40 tomato farmers used to grow for Heinz.
Sam Diab, president of Highbury CanCo, is scheduled to be the guest speaker at the Leamington Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Rhine Danube Club.
Last week, tomato competitor Thomas Canning of Maidstone, Ont., signed a $25-million tomato product deal with a Nigerian company.
Thomas Canning will produce at least 2.2 million cases of tomato products each year for the African market.
Bill Thomas, CEO of Thomas Canning, said he expects the deal will need 1,200 hectares, or 3,000 additional acres, of tomatoes. He expects to contract approximately 20 growers in Essex and Chatham-Kent counties.