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Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in step with WA organic increase

Keeping in step with industry estimates for some 10 million boxes of organic apples out of Washington this season, Wenatchee-based Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers is supplying a good percentage of certified fruit to that total.
According to Oneonta Director of Marketing Scott Marboe, the company's growers are seeing excellent quality, good ranges of sizes and big volume coming off the tree.

“Our organic program has really taken off in the last few years,” Marboe said in early October. “We were late arrivers to the organic category, but we now have over 1.2 million cartons of apples. We will have cherries next season and are also adding to our organic pear supply.”

The apples, shipped under the “Starr Ranch Organics” label, are seeing strong demand domestically and increasing demand in foreign markets.

“We had a great growing season, and apples are moving very well now,” Marboe said. “We saw great early domestic movement and some really good ad support. Aggressive retail pricing really jump-started the apple movement. And export demand has started strong as well.

Marketing Representative Bruce Turner agreed, saying the largest organic apple crop to come out of Washington to date is being met with increased demand at retail.
“Retailers across the country are devoting more space to organics,” Turner said, noting trend is “not just those who have traditionally operated in the organic and natural channel for years.”

He said, “Conventional retailers have done an amazing job of integrating full organic sets into their stores, exposing more consumers to a full line.”

Turner said organic supplies should “last well into May next year, and Oneonta expects to pack about 14 percent of the Washington organic apple crop.”
Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers offers certified organic Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Cameo, Jonagold and the Pink Lady, and the “Starr Ranch Organics” brand is available in a variety of packs, including full cartons, Euros and bags in various sizes and designs.

At Columbia Valley Fruit LLC, Orlin Knutson is one of grower owners who provides Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers with certified fruit. In partnership with Knutson are third-generation farming brothers Tom and Mark Tudor and grower Chris Vizena.
Marboe described Knutson as an accomplished grower who is “smart, sees a vision of where he wants to be and where the industry is going. He is very well respected in the industry and I look to him for guidance as well. He and his partners at Columbia Valley have the latest technology in place to make sure we are bringing the best product to market.”

Knutson said he moved to Washington in the mid-1970s and started planting his orchards in 1979. When the Washington Department of Agriculture began its organic certification program in the late 1980s, Knutson transitioned his orchards and is all-organic today.

He and his Columbia Valley Fruit partners bought the company in 2008, and today the operation stores, packs and ships apples from more than 50 central Washington growers. As industry demands have evolved, CVF has responded with technological advancements. Today the facility has more than 200,000 square feet storage and CA capacity as well as an automated line that sizes, color sorts and packs according to individual customer requirements. All packed fruit is scanned prior to shipping to ensure accuracy, and all food safety certifications are in place.

Addressing the 2014 organic crop, Knutson said, “We've seen pretty dramatic increases statewide, and we are up proportionately. The market itself continues to grow, and demand is very strong. Our biggest increases have come in Galas and Fujis, and we're also seeing more Honeycrisp, Reds and Goldens this year. Our size profiles are very good, with the Honeycrisp on the large side. Fujis are also great, with a good range of sizes.”

Organic apples from Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers are shipping under the “Starr Ranch Organics” label. Photo courtesy of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers

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