Good Fruit Grower

May 15

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20 MAY 15, 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER F or many years, Montana sweet cherries were marketed as the tail end of the Washington State crop, not having much of an identity of their own. But more recently, growers in Montana have worked to project a better image of what they think are better cherries and to get a better price for them. "For the last fi ve years, we've been trying to brand Montana fruit," said Ken Edgington, a member of the board of directors and secretary of Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Association. "We produce the latest cherries in the United States, but they've always been identifi ed with the Northwest and not Montana specifi cally." The Flathead Lake association is a cooperative of about 70 growers. Since 1999, they've been shipping most of their fruit by truck to Monson Fruit Company in Selah, Washington, for packing and then for sale through Domex Superfresh Growers. "We have a contract to send at least 80 percent of our production to Monson," Edgington said. Domex does a good job of getting the cherries into wholesale distri- bution in large supermarkets across the country, he said, but rural and small-town Montana itself was missing out on access to its own cherries. So the co-op began looking for a way to identify Montana fruit and also fi nd a partner that could distribute some of it back in Montana. They found both. Monson now packs a special package, called Montana Premium, in a special box containing 10 1/2-row and larger cherries. Not only does Domex distribute them, but the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers found a new partner in Charlie's Produce, of Spokane, Washington. Alex Plummer, general manager of Charlie's, said Charlie's distrib- utes food products to restaurants and retail establishments, including those in Montana. In 2013, Charlie's sponsored a display competition among the stores it serves, creating great visibility for the new Montana Premium package. Pristine image "Montana has a nice image," Edgington said. Domex is using that Big Sky Country image of Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, pure mountain creek water, and the special climate, as well as the fact they Cherries SAVING the BEST till LAST Montana sweet cherry growers polish their image as quality late-season producers. by Richard Lehnert Freshly picked sweet cherries await transport from Richard Beighle's orchard on Finley Point. Beighle hosts a variety of research trials. Bruce Johnson, left, is president of the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers Cooperative. Here, he looks over an orchard with Pat McGlynn, the Montana State Univerisity horticulture extension agent, and growers Tom Lawrence and Joe Hurst.

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