Leger & Son Inc.

Experts in growing and shipping watermelon from Georgia to the Eastern United States
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley

Leger & Son Inc. is a family-owned and operated watermelon growing and shipping business based in Cordele, Georgia. C.M. “Buddy” Leger, now secretary and treasurer, established Leger & Son in 1965, growing and shipping watermelons throughout Georgia and Florida. Over the years, the company has expanded significantly.

Greg Leger, Buddy’s son and now president of Leger & Son, works alongside a strong management team that includes his father, as well as Wanda Hayslip, office manager and bookkeeper; Cecil Riggs, controller; Chelsea Walls, head of sales and transportation; Jordan Carter, head of sales and marketing; Will Hinson, head of food safety; and Wesley Prather, farm manager.

Buddy started out farming watermelon on 200 acres in Georgia. Today, Leger & Son invests, ships and sharecrops from over 1000 acres on the East Coast. In addition, the company also farms 400 acres of pecans, which is a growing segment of the business.

Leger & Son partners with growers in two ways to reap the benefits of this land. “We often advance money to these grower partners in advance, helping them get the crop started,” Greg elaborates. “Oftentimes, we partner with these growers later in the game, where they are responsible for producing and we pack and market the produce.”

Bulking up operations

With a growing market through distributors who sell to major retailers throughout the Eastern United States, Leger & Son is always striving to improve efficiencies and maintain consistency. In 2013, Greg and his team decided to build a fully enclosed packing facility with automated weighing and sizing equipment to help manage quality.

“The implementation of this new facility will result in a better pack for both customer and consumer,” he explains. “We were packing under several different smaller facilities for a long time, some we owned and some our partners owned. Many of these facilities were used for other commodities and produce. While we were generally designated to a particular area, quality control was a growing concern. With all of the cantaloupe issues in the West, there just seemed to be one more food safety issue after another.”

Greg wanted to be able to centralize packing and create a guarantee of control over quality and food safety. If there was an issue in any part of these other commodities, the whole thing could be shut down at a huge loss,” he explains. “We have better control safety with an in-house packing plant and we can also make our process more efficient and more traceable.” Traceability is another major priority for the business, which was the first fresh produce shipper to sign onto the YottaMark HarvestMark Unit Traceability system in 2008.

Lasting relationships

Building relationships, Greg says, is the most rewarding part of his business. He has established a strong distribution network throughout the East Coast and Midwest with partners who help get his product into grocery stores. These connections have also allowed Greg to build up the emerging pecan business through a network of brokers. These partnerships move product beyond U.S. borders to new international markets such as China.

On the back end of the business, partnerships with growers are vital to the company’s success. “A lot of the guys who grow for us are row crop farmers,” Greg notes. “For the most part they grow peanuts and cotton. There are not a lot of veggies in our area here because of the soil. Our season really kicks off in the beginning of June and we have a big supply on the Fourth of July market. Our agricultural partners  grow watermelons for us and we offer a service to them. We manage and invest in the crop. We do the picking and packing and we can help with varieties.”

Looking ahead

With a strong network of supporting growers and dedicate distributors, Leger & Son is growing steadily. Greg sees the business on a course of expansion over the next five years. “Now at 2,400 loads, I don’t want to be the 8,000 load shipper person,” he explains. “I want to solidify my business a little more. We plan to expand into different regions and establish facilities in new areas.”

As a commodities-based business, the company faces many of the same challenges as other players in the agricultural industry. Combined with the team’s recent move into a new facility, Greg and his crew have invested additional energy into managing expenses, overhead and efficiencies. Through all of this, Leger & Sons Inc. has remained dedicated to food safety and product quality, delivering, fresh and healthy watermelons to markets throughout the region.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Bayer CropScience Vegetable Seeds