Growing new business offerings

A Harpersville sod farm recently grew its business by adding a large-scale produce operation to its existing offerings.

Sunbelt Turf Farm on Alabama 25 recently began growing many types of produce, including tomatoes, watermelons, squash and many types of peppers, in an attempt to combat the national economic downturn.

By adding produce to the farm’s many sod fields, the company is hoping to bolster its bottom line and diversify its income sources, said Sam Hamner, one of the businesses’ owners.

“We started growing produce last year as kind of a trial run, and we found there was a demand for it,” Hamner said. “And the quality we were able to produce satisfied our customers’ demands.

“When the decline in the economy took place, we were just looking for alternate sources of income,” Hamner added.

Even though Hamner said the produce fields make up only about 5 percent of Sunbelt’s total operations, it is becoming a major part of the company’s business plan.

“Just to give you an idea, we will plant more than 265,000 tomato plants this season,” Hamner said. “So there’s a lot to it. We aren’t just growing a few plants out there.”

Most of the produce grown at Sunbelt is sold to the food service industry, and some is sold to the Locals Produce market next to Lloyd’s restaurant on U.S. 280.

Because Sunbelt’s produce operation is relatively new, Hamner said the company has not yet determined what impact the new operation will have.

“We do not know yet if it will be a profitable to our business,” Hamner said. “Produce is very capital- and labor-intensive, and it is very affected by the market.

“Right now, tomatoes are about $10 a box, whereas three months ago they were $50 a box,” Hamner added. “Have we made any money on it at this point? No. Do we hope it will be a profitable venture for us down the road? Of course.”