REEDLEY, Calif. — After two consecutive years of very high volumes, the combined California peach, plum and nectarine crops should be down about 10 million cartons. Grower-shippers said the crops would be more manageable, while the quality, size and flavor will be very good.
“Family Tree Farms is staying the course,” said marketing director Don Goforth. “We were founded on flavor, and that’s our future.”
For Family Tree Farms, staying the course means growing the right varieties and harvesting the fruit when it was meant to be picked, he said. Selecting the right varieties is a complex, scientific task. The company’s 6-acre research and development center near Goshen recently marked its first anniversary.
The center is testing and breeding varieties from as far away as Europe and the Middle East, said Eric Wuhl, Family Tree’s director of research and development.
“Few of the test varieties survive for more testing,” Wuhl said.
Those that do may replace the 20% to 25% of Family Tree orchards replanted or grafted every year.
“There’s no way to luck into success in this business,” Goforth said.
Grower-shippers maintain they were stewards of the land long before there was an environmental movement. Three California growers, Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., Sanger; Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler; and SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, are driving home the point by committing acreage to annual audits by Protected Harvest, Soquel, Calif., a nonprofit organization that independently certifies growers’ use of stringent environmental growing and sustainability standards.
“Retailers need to hear about what our growers are doing,” said Steve Ryan, senior vice president of sales for Ballantine. “These farmers should be recognized for their efforts.”
Blair Richardson, president and chief executive officer of Parlier-based FreshSense, the marketing arm for the brands under which the three grower-shippers pack, said 60% of their land has already been certified.
“The annual audits are costly for the growers,” he said, “but there are savings, too.”
In some cases, Blair said, the Protected Harvest-required irrigation water testing discovered sufficient amounts of nitrogen that fertilizer applications could be reduced. Yet another requirement, he said, is for GPS positioning of insect traps. Evaluating the data has at times enabled growers to concentrate pesticides only on those portions of the orchards that are infested.
Fruit from the grower-shippers’ certified farmland is packed under the Zeal label. They also provide pre-conditioned fruit for the Ripe ’N Ready and Tree House Kids labels in addition to their in-house labels.