Coming Up Together

Hunter Gibbs and Dawson Pugh of Swanquarter, N.C.

Published in the August 2014 Issue Published online: Aug 10, 2014 Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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"Childhood buddies. Dawson Pugh (left) and Hunter Gibbs have turned a childhood friendship into a thriving potatoproducing operation.
"Clean as a whistle. The company takes pride in maintaining the highest standards of food quality and safety.A heavy load. Pamlico Shores ships out over 50,000 cwt. of fresh potatoes a year.
"Pamlico Shores Produce ships reds and yellows for the fresh market.

A lot of childhood friends have lofty dreams and make big plans about working together and building homes next door to each other when they grow up. Very few see those grand illusions come to fruition.

For Hunter Gibbs and Dawson Pugh, building a business together always seemed like it was in the cards. They grew up on multi-generation family farms a quarter mile from each other in Swanquarter, N.C., and both knew farming was the contribution they wanted to make to the world. When the opportunity arose to get into business together, they jumped on it.

Gibbs and Pugh entered into an official partnership in 2006. They farm much of the land both their families have farmed for generations in an area known as the Blacklands of Hyde County for its fertile black soil. They grow corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat as well as several varieties of red, yellow and white table-stock potatoes. “We’re the only potato grower in our county,” Pugh says proudly.

“We just came together and asked, ‘What are the options for growing?’” Gibbs explains. “I’ve got a history in produce sales and wanted to get back into production agriculture. So we got together and pretty much made everything 50-50 as far as equipment and cost and, of course, profit.”


PAMLICO SHORES PRODUCE

The union has, to put it mildly, worked. They plant from late February through March and harvest from mid- June to early August. In 2012, the partners bought a packing shed and rebranded the potato-producing and packing segments of the operation as Pamlico Shores Produce.

“Right now, we’re just running our potatoes,” Pugh says of the packing shed.

“Of course, we have a growth plan as far as what we want to do and how we want to do it. One of our plans is to increase potato acreage either through our own farm or through other growers that would grow for us.”

Pamlico Shores takes great pride in being a forward-thinking, proactive company. They’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that the packing facility is ahead of the curve when it comes to food safety.

“One of the things that really sets us apart from other packers,” says Gibbs, “is that we’re basically already abiding by all the food safety measures before retailers even require them.”

“We really do pride our company on how far ahead we are on the food safety,” says William Liggett, who serves as Pamlico Shores’ director of operations and food safety. “The Food Safety Modernization Act, we feel like it has been and will be a pretty small adjustment for us.”


BY THE SEA

“We are as far east as you can go in North Carolina,” says Gibbs. “We’re farther east than Miami, so one of the challenges we have is weather.” But it’s not the kind of weather most potato growers in other parts of the country contend with.

“We can get a four- or five-inch rain in one night, even when it’s not hurricane season,” Gibbs says. “We’re usually done with potatoes by then, but our corn and cotton and soybeans usually have to deal with hurricane season.”

“We suffer from too much rain way more than we suffer from not enough,” level, and our big problem is getting water off. When we get a big rain, we can use all of our crews spending days just pumping water out of the fields.”

But growing where they do does have its perks. “It’s been real successful for us,” says Gibbs. “It’s been a good area. This county hadn’t had potatoes in it since the ‘90s before we came in. So it’s worked really well; we haven’t had the disease pressure some of the other parts of the state have had.

AN EYE TO THE FUTURE

“Eastern North Carolina has a unique window into table-stock,” he adds.

“Florida has finished and Wisconsin hasn’t begun yet. We have a good window for our crop.” And Pamlico Shores’ customers have noticed the packing shed’s dedication to food safety and ability to stay ahead of the game. “We’ve found out here that retailers in our window really have come to us,” Gibbs continues. “We’re not going to be falling by the wayside. We’re going to be taking the ball and running with it.”

When all is said and done, is there any other way to succeed?