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Rio Fresh applying new ideas

SAN JUAN, TX— South Texas vegetable grower-packer-shipper Rio Fresh Inc. is taking seriously the adage that for every hour some freshly harvested vegetables are not precooled, a day of shelf life is lost.

As a result, the established firm, which operates along the southern reaches of the Rio Grande River, is doubling its hydrocooling capacity and increasing cold room storage by 20 percent this fall.

Rio Fresh is also expanding its onion shed. The existing packingline is maxed out, even with operations at 16 to 18 hours at the peak of the onion season.

Fred-Courtney-Taylor-Rio-FreshFred, Courtney and Taylor Schuster in the family’s experimental organic vegetable garden at their farm headquarters. There is new construction at both the greens and onion sheds. This includes a second greens hydrocooling line to extend that valuable shelf life. “The new hydrocooling line will bring a fantastic increase in quality for Rio Fresh greens,” according to Taylor Schuster. The onion shed is installing a second packingline, increasing drying capacity six-fold and expanding the shed itself by 40 percent.

“We are going to have the best technology from the field to the store,” said family patriarch Fred Schuster.

Schuster’s children, Courtney and Taylor, are partners in the firm with their parents, uncle, aunts and cousins. Currently, seven members of the third generation are working at Rio Fresh. Fred said this third generation of family farmers “is bringing a lot of excitement to the business. They are trying new things while sometimes I am set in my ways. It’s exciting to see new ideas.”

Fred Schuster said, “I am amazed with the high tech coming into the business, such as using drones to check field germination.”

Figuratively speaking, Courtney noted, “We are dipping our toes into organics.”

Rio Fresh plans to be shipping organic kale and beets this fall. Other organic possibilities are parsley, cilantro and red and sweet yellow onions.

Fred Schuster said the production schedule has not had disruptions: “We are where we’re supposed to be.”

Some production was beginning in late October, but the firm would be shipping full volumes by November.

The onion deal of Rio Fresh begins in February.

Courtney said, “Last year was strong year. The weather was unpredictable, but we stayed on track.”