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Rainier extends its organic apple season

By better matching growing location, varieties and the timing of sales, Rainier Fruit Company has been able to lengthen the storage capabilities of some of its organic apple varieties and offer the fruit on a year-round basis.

“The biggest change for us on the organic front is that we used to run out (of organics) in late spring or early summer,” said Andy Tudor, vice president of business development for the firm. “This season we are going to be able to go year-round on Galas, Fujis and Grannys and will be very close on the Honey Crisps.”

Rainier Organic-Full Mockup-1 He explained that Rainier, which is headquartered in Selah, WA, and its growers have apple orchards throughout the state stretching from the Oregon border to the Canadian border. Those areas have many different micro-climates and the key has been to more strategically pull the fruit out of storage over the last couple of years maximizing each lot’s storage capabilities.

He said the company’s total organic production has been increasing but most importantly it has shifted among the varieties. Two years ago, Rainier shifted out of organic production of the Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. And it is also eliminating organic production of Jonagolds and Braeburns. Tudor said consumers of both conventional and organic apples are moving away from some of the old standards and toward the newer, crisper and sweeter varieties. Rainier is following the lead of the consumers and giving them what they want.

Included on that list is the company’s proprietary Lady Alice apple variety. “We have made a big commitment on organic production of Lady Alice,” Tudor said. “Our production is 80 percent organic and 20 percent conventional.”

The apple is available from October to June and is competing for shelf space with many new varieties, but Tudor said Lady Alice has established a niche, over the last several years. He did say that all of these new varieties in aggregate have created a challenge for the industry. The new varieties allow for much greater density in planting allowing for many more trees and much more production per acre. “It is an industry challenge. There is a feeling that there are too many trees in the ground for the industry to be profitable.”

Growers are pulling out the least desirable varieties but, in their place, they are often planting many more trees of a newer variety. Tudor said many growers will be looking at the economics of the situation after this year, including the dynamics involved in producing organic apples. Costs are greater as labor is one of the most expensive inputs and the hand labor involved in organics is extensive. In addition, he said yields tend to be lower as the fruit size is smaller. For a large company like Rainier having organics is somewhat of a must as they do well to be able to supply all the apple needs of their customers. But for an individual grower, the calculation is made on a much smaller scale and Tudor said this year’s marketing situation will be examined closely.

Rainier also offers organic pears from August to March, organic cherries in June and July and organic blueberries from June to October.