Ed Huffman on Sutherland’s global one-stop-shop service

“We take care of quality control, packing and shipping for our cherry customers”

Sutherland, S.A. is headquartered in Canada, but the company grows and represents growers of cherries, grapes, blueberries, apples and citrus in six different countries and exports to more than 30 countries around the globe. The company grows its own cherries in British Columbia, Washington state and Chile, but currently is involved in the California cherry season.

Long-time expertise
FreshPlaza visited with Sutherland at the packing house of M&R Company in Lodi, CA where Sutherland supports the company with the harvest, packing and sales of cherries. “We’ve been working with M&R Company for five years,” says Tad Brusseau with Sutherland. “Grower-shippers like M&R come to us because of our expertise,” he added. “We have been growing, packing and shipping cherries for more than 20 years and because of our technical expertise in combination with a customer network in many different countries, companies come to us and want to work together.” 

Donna Reynolds, President of the M&R Company, Tad Brusseau and Ed Huffman with Sutherland SA, Kam Chauhan with FreshPack Okanagan Fruit and Jeremy Fieldman with M&R Company are all onsite and involved in the cherry harvest and packing process.

One-stop shop
During the California cherry season, several of Sutherland’s employees are on-site at M&R Company for the duration of harvest. “We are in the orchards looking at the fruit, we work with M&R staff to achieve the specifications our customers require. We are a one-stop-shop for our customers,” says Ed Huffman with Sutherland, S.A. Huffman has more than 35 years of experience in the cherry industry and stays in Lodi during the California cherry season.

Quality control
Sutherland only wants to work with the best companies in the industry. “This company (M&R) really stands out when it comes to innovation and quality control,” said Huffman. It starts in the orchards where portable hydro coolers are used to bring the field temperature of the cherries down as quickly as possible after the fruit has been picked. “Heat removal on cherries is critical and needs to be taken out as quickly as possible,” Huffman added. “It is important to the fruit but will also keep the stem fresh and greener.” Export markets prefer the stem attached to the fruit and for that reason it is important to have a fresh stem. 

Optical sorting line from Unitec

Optical sorting line
“The optical sorting line is another example of M&R Company’s focus on delivering a high-quality product,” said Huffman. The Unitec line is in its second year of operation and has a capacity of up to 15 tons/hour. Cameras take multiple pictures of each cherry and asses the color, size, defects and firmness of each piece of fruit. The parameters are determined by the line operator. All the information is processed and based on the results of the photos, the machine knows where to drop each individual cherry. Each drop packs for a different size and destination, based on the customer’s preference. The line can pack for up to 24 drops at the same time. 

Depending on size, color, firmness and destination, a cherry makes it to one of 24 drops.

Difficult year due to low production levels
California’s cherry crop is about one-third of the size of last year due to a lack of chilling hours and frost during bloom. “This makes it a hard year on everybody involved, including growers,line staff, packers and shippers.” said Huffman. However, as a result of lower production, fruit size is larger than average, and quality is high. The first cherries of the season were packed on April 27 and the season is nearing its peak with harvest of Rainier and Bing cherries starting shortly. California’s cherry season is expected to run to mid-June. Huffman expects to see a bit of overlap between California and Washington state, which is expected to start harvesting around June 8. Sutherland looks forward to the remainder of the California season and upcoming cherries in Washington and British Columbia.

9 row Smiling Monkey cherries packed and ready to be shipped by air to Vietnam.

For more information:
Rick Chong
Sutherland, S.A.
Tel: (+1) 403-616-1977

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