Texas Neighbors Fall 2016 : Page 8
A Big ‘dill’ in Texas
Dill. Kosher. Bread and butter. Whatever your pickle preference, it all starts on farms like Bryan Curry’s. He’s been growing cucumbers near Hale Center in West Texas for about 10 years. He also grows corn, wheat and cotton. But on his farm, pickles are a big ‘dill.’
“We started raising pickles in ’06 or ’07. And we raise them for Best Maid,” Curry, Hale County Farm Bureau board member, said. “We fertilize the ground. We plow it. We get the ground ready to plant. Best Maid’s equipment comes in. They plant and they harvest. All we have to do is keep them irrigated through the year.”
Curry grows every cucumber with Texas pride.
Like him, Best Maid was born and raised in the Lone Star State. It’s Texas’ only major pickle company.
“Best Maid is unique from anybody else selling cucumbers in Texas because they are grown in Texas. They’re a Texas product,” Steven Goetz, a Best Maid/Fresh Contracting representative, said. “Texas farmers are growing them. We have about 2,900 acres to 3,000 acres that we plant every year.”
Curry raises about 300 of those acres. He works closely with folks like Goetz to make sure Best Maid gets the fruit they need. About 60 percent of the pickles in Best Maid’s jars are from this area— northwest of Lubbock.
The hot days, cool nights and low humidity of West Texas are perfect for growing these future snacks.
“My best yields have been 386 bushels to the acre,” Curry said. “They’ve started picking them a little smaller so anywhere from 250 to 300 is probably an excellent crop.”
Planting starts at the end of May and goes for 12 weeks. About 40 to 60 acres are planted each day. Forty-five days later, they’re ready to harvest.
Once Curry’s cucumbers are the right size, Best Maid brings out two self-propelled harvesters. Each machine picks about 50,000 pounds per hour.
“We ship to Best Maid cucumbers between one inch and two inches in diameter,” Goetz said. “We’ve got about a 24-hour window to really get these things out of the field. They’ll grow a size a day. And a size for us is a quarter of an inch. Tomorrow, they’ll be too big.”
Once the cucumbers are picked, they are graded, sorted and loaded onto trucks bound for the pickling plant in Fort Worth.
About 15 semi loads of cucumbers will travel from Hale County to Tarrant County every day during harvest. That’s around 30 million pounds of pickles.
“Chances are, if you’re eating a pickle in the state of Texas, even if it is at a restaurant, it probably came from Best Maid,” Noah Bass, vice president of Operations and Sales for Best Maid, said.
Once in the metroplex, they will either go directly to the plant in Fort Worth to be fresh-packed— from field to jar in a few days. Or they will head to the tankyard in Mansfield to be processed and later put in jars in Fort Worth.
No matter the flavor or the type, everyone from the field to the warehouse takes pride in their part of the pickle.
“We take a lot of pride in the fact that we put out the most tightly-packed jar on the shelf,” Bass said. “You’re always going to get a full jar from Best Maid. We have extra people on the line who make sure that we get that last pickle in the jar.”
Best Maid pickles have a stronger dill flavor than most brands. They only ship in Texas and to the surrounding states that can cater more to Texan tastes.
Curry enjoys growing crops that further the Lone Star State mystique. As a third generation farmer, he hopes to pass on the farming legacy to his sons. Maybe they will be the next generations of pickle producers.
“I would honestly like to switch to mostly pickles but it’s very finicky. It’s a pretty high risk crop,” Curry said. “I hope we can raise this crop for a long time.”