Good Fruit Grower

May 15

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Page 14 of 55 GOOD FRUIT GROWER MAY 15, 2014 15 "The technology will allow us to differentiate fruit quality and be able to see and measure the quality levels of different growers, varieties, and locations, including blocks that aren't profitable," he said. "But what happens to those blocks that aren't profitable?" Verbrugge said he has a block that doesn't produce high-quality fruit, but always makes money. "I know it's not a good quality block," he said, adding that with their current sorting ability, the block averages with better quality blocks. "But I don't think the block will make it under new sorting technology." With the technology comes potential for more lower quality fruit to be kept from the box. "I know that last year (a challenging weather year), 10 percent of the fruit in the box was soft, but you can't squeeze every single cherry. With the new technology, what happens to that 10 percent?" As a packer, he can only imagine what it will be like to have a plethora of product SKUs (stock-keeping units). "Right now, we have five to six sizes of cherries. But imagine what it will be like with eight or more sizes, plus color separation, plus firmness specs. We could have 30 different SKUs for fruit." Skeptical Verbrugge may sound skeptical, but he sees many advantages with the technology, especially for the export side of the packing business. "We believe it will really help improve quality for exports, which is why we're put- ting it initially on our resizing (secondary) line where we pack exports." Currently, they pack export fruit on a grower-by- grower basis, selecting those with a reputation for size and quality. The new technology will allow them to sort export fruit from a wider pool of growers. Wenatchee grower Mike Taylor's fruit was packed last year by the high-tech cherry line of Stemilt Growers, Inc., of Wenatchee. Taylor is also a marketer for Stemilt. He was asked by Good Fruit Grower to share his thoughts on the new technology as a grower. "Growers are paid on the basis of their fruit size," he said. "The new electronic sorters will help capture the fruit I'm trying to grow and help me be compensated for it. The technology will enable growers who are producing large fruit to be rewarded for their efforts." Taylor added that growers have made great strides in recent years to raise the quality bar. "Everybody's really working hard to improve fruit quality and doing things like implementing aggressive pruning strategies and strong gibberellic acid programs and harvesting firm fruit. I'm so impressed with the changes that are taking place." Additionally, he says, the new technology handles fruit more gently, which will help preserve quality and deliver a better eating experience to the consumer. "That leads to increased demand and more sales—things that are good for growers." Retailers may have to adjust their product spec- ifications to reflect the new packing accuracy, he said, explaining that improved sizing accuracy will limit the number of oversized fruit that used to unintentionally come in the box. "There will be new market realities and pressure on the marketing desks to move the lower quality fruit," Taylor said, but added that retail price plays a role and is a "great governor" in movement of fruit. He believes the improved quality will be less sensi- tive to price when product is harvested under adverse conditions. "This will be super beneficial when we have weather damage," he said, explaining that in the past, damaged fruit wasn't packed because the slowed packing lines could not keep up with volume. "In 2009, everyone suffered and was skipped over," Taylor said. "Some of those skipped were our fathers and grandfathers, some were our bosses, and even some were us." •

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