Good Fruit Grower

January 15

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26 JANUARY 15, 2015 Good Fruit Grower and marketing staff around the country—as Stemilt had—were at an advantage. In 2007, Douglas began transitioning all its stone fruit to organic to target a niche in the marketplace and avoid head-on competition with California. Douglas Fruit packs stone fruit for Stemilt's growers as well as its own, though about 90 percent comes from Douglas family orchards. Their stone fruits are sold across the country and overseas. About 20 per- cent are exported, primarily to Taiwan, Canada, and Mexico. The family attributes their success to being somewhat conservative in their growth and responding to the market in terms of what they grow and pack. They've also made a commitment to reinvest in farms and equipment. Another reason for their success is that the roles and respon- sibilities of the family members are in line with their skill sets, they say. Jobs have not been created for them. David, who has a bachelor's degree in accounting and a master's in business administration from the University of Washington, worked for Yakima Fruit and Cold Storage in Wapato for a couple of years before joining the family business in 1999. He oversees the field staff and the financial side of the business. Peter, a graduate of Cornell University, New York, worked in sales for Dell Computers before joining the Douglas sales force six years ago. Replanting The family holds annual strategic planning meetings to discuss what they and their independent growers need to do to remain competitive. Marketers provide input about where the opportunities are and where the market is oversupplied. The family also discusses the implications for the labor supply and packing house. They replant some of their stone fruits every year. David's brother John (known as Little John to distinguish him from his uncle Big John) earned a degree in agribusiness from Cornell University, New York, and runs the company farms. Many of the new stone fruit varieties they plant come from California, where most of the stone fruit breeders are based. John said it's hard to predict how they will perform in the Pacific Northwest. For example, harvest timing might be wrong or the fruit might be smaller than in California, though generally they color better. There's always a succession of new stone fruit varieties, so orchards are commonly replanted within 15 years. Low-acid, white-fleshed vari- eties were popular for a while, but now the trend is back to the classic yellow peaches, such as O'Henry, Zee Lady, and Elegant Lady. In Washington, though, the trees might suffer from winter injury and need to be replaced even sooner. The average lifespan of a stone fruit planting is probably 10 to 12 years. Still, it's not such an expensive under- taking as planting an apple orchard. Trees are planted at a density of 375 to 400 per acre and are freestanding, and the ground doesn't need to be fumigated. David said the company is planning to add another hundred acres of peaches and nectarines. "We feel like the demand is there, and we can effectively sell more boxes organically," he said. "We feel we need to be of a certain size to be viable and target the national accounts." • Marlin Soriano packs organic apricots in the Douglas Fruit Company packing facility.

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