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Juan Pagan Caraballo
Yauco, Puerto Rico
Products Raised or Grown: Bananas and plantains
Size of Operation: 408 acres
Years in Business: 20
Farm Credit Partner: Puerto Rico Farm Credit
Years Working with Farm Credit: 10
After starting out as a coffee farmer, Juan Pagan began working with bananas instead, first as a wholesaler, buying from growers and selling to retailers, and for the past 20 years growing them himself. His company, Bananera Pagan, is now the largest banana supplier in Puerto Rico – an industry sector that has grown to more than 3.7 million bananas harvested each year, all of which is consumed on the island.
Juan began his operation with 48.6 acres and 15 employees. Today, with financing from Puerto Rico Farm Credit, he has expanded his farm to 408 acres that produce an annual harvest of 7,500 tons of bananas and plantains, a crop he added in 2010 and which are used in cooked dishes. He accomplishes this task with 180 full-time employees and an island-wide distribution system that includes a fleet of his own trucks. His crop is sold to grocery retailers throughout the island, ranging in size from Wal-Mart to local stores.
From seeding to harvest, it takes close to a year for a banana plant to produce. After the first harvest, the plant will continue to produce for another year or two, but then needs to be replaced to maximize production. With year-round production, ensuring consistent yields takes a lot of planning and attention, both knowing when to harvest each tree and when to replace it. Juan accomplishes this with the help of his children, who have worked with him from the beginning of the operation.
“He has been able to maintain consistent production and quality throughout the year,” says Jorge Dulzaides, regional lending manager at Puerto Rico Farm Credit.
Bananas and plantains are harvested manually, then washed and packed in 40 pound boxes for distribution. To increase efficiency and improve product quality, Juan recently installed a cable system to take harvested “hands” from the field to the processing facility. Further efficiencies are planned with the installation of solar power, which will reduce his energy costs and take advantage of the Caribbean sun. Juan is also considering diversifying his crops to take advantage of his existing distribution system, possibly adding field crops, lemons or cattle.