Full-time farmer Juan Pagán is known in agribusiness circles for being a discerning entrepreneur. His reserved personality and the fact that he is a savvy and experienced businessman required PRFC's team to invest some time and negotiation skills to earn his trust. Today, listening to him talk about his relationship with the Association, no one could imagine he harbored any doubt.
The owner of one of the biggest banana and plantain farms in Puerto Rico, Mr. Pagán has been a member of Puerto Rico Farm Credit since 2002 when he applied for a loan to purchase an adjacent farm as part of the expansion of his operation in Yauco. The key to joining the Association, he says, was the dedication and industry knowledge shown by PRFC's officials:
"Officials from PRFC had visited me several times before I made up my mind. What convinced me to do business with PRFC were the good references provided by renowned farmers in the region. They said the people from PRFC were serious and respected; that it was a serious financial institution. PRFC proved them right. From that moment on, we have considered the people from PRFC as family", says Pagán. In fact, PRFC has been part of Bananera Pagán's growth for over a decade, granting additional credit for farm acquisitions and working capital.
Through the years, and with PRFC's support, Pagán has led his children, Steven, Henry, Alex and Jesmar, to take charge of all business areas, including farm management, product sales and marketing, quality control and accounting. The founder keeps the operation under close supervision, but trusts his children to take the company to the next level. Meanwhile, his wife Carmen Pérez looks after all of them, making sure the family stays together and in harmony even under the stress of managing a big business.
Thanks to this approach, in 2011 the Pagán family was able to diversify the operation by adding plantains to their offerings. In addition, the company developed its own packing process and distribution channels. The strategy has been successful, with 200 employees, 400 cuerdas dedicated to bananas and 150 to plantains to prove it. Today, Bananera Pagán is a leader in its industry.
The two packing plants, which son Alex manages, feature an innovative cable harvesting system to transport bananas from the farm to the cutting and washing stations, thus avoiding marks and bruises to the fruit. Bananera Pagán also has several refrigeration units and its own trucks to make sure the final product is at its best when delivered throughout the island. A solar-energy system helps keep the operation cost effective.
As for marketing and sales, which son Henry leads, Bananera Pagán provides bananas and plantains to large supermarket chains and discount clubs. It's a challenging task, as Henry explains: "Consumers from different regions of the island prefer their bananas and plantains at different degrees of ripeness: some like to buy them green, others only buy the yellow ones. We work with storeowners and managers to provide them exactly what their customers want".
In addition, supermarket chains require consistency in taste, quality and quantity of product at all stores. "Once we start selling to a chain, we need to keep a delivery schedule and to be able to supply the amounts required, day in and day out. It's a 24-hour operation," adds Henry. Their commitment to catering to all these needs has distinguished Bananera Pagán, as they insist in applying their vision of excellence in service to all business tasks.
To be able to comply with industry requirements, son Steven is in charge of making sure the farm functions at its best by conducting soil analysis and applying different farming strategies. Meanwhile, daughter Jesmar works the administrative tasks to keep the operation on track.
As a family, the Pagáns show pride on their work and feel grateful for the support of storeowners and consumers. Other industry leaders have recognized their achievements, motivating them to keep growing. In 2012, Bananera Pagán received the Farmer of the Year Award from Walmart. That same year, the Department of Agriculture recognized the company's work on soil conservation.
The future looks promising. In addition to expanding their plantain production, the Pagáns are looking into other crops, including peppers, papayas, lemons and pineapples. Plans include two new farms to be managed directly by Steven and Henry. Guided by their father and with the support of PRFC, the team is in the process of analyzing the farming and marketing specifications of each crop to make sure the new operations are as successful as the ones they already have.
PRFC provides them valuable financial information for the decision-making process, and helps increase their credit in a sensible manner when needed. As Steven Pagán explains, "PRFC is part of our conversations about business development. When we make plans for our business, we make them with our friends from PRFC in mind".
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