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Starr Ranch Growers expects to triple volume in organic component of pear program

pears123 “Our organic [pear] program is nearly tripling in size this year,” said Dan Davis, director of business development at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in Hood River, OR, more commonly referred to as Starr Ranch Growers.

The organic pears are primarily packed by Gilbert Orchards in Yakima, WA, and the organic component “is growing and growing,” Davis said. “We are really happy with the growth in our organic pears” which focuses on green Bartlett and green Anjou varieties.

He expected the organic Bartlett harvest to start Monday, Aug. 3, kicking off the 2020 pear harvest for Starr Ranch Growers, with the harvest of conventional Bartletts getting under way within the next four to seven days. “We are trending about a week earlier than last year,” he said.

Davis expects the pear crop overall to be down slightly from a year ago. “Mother Nature has certainly thrown some curve balls at us this year. There were a couple of hail events in the Hood River Valley that will have some lingering impacts for this crop. We are down on some varieties. Not significantly. We are single-digit volume down, depending on the variety, kind of across the board.

The heaviest impact, as it happens, will be on what would normally be “our most storable fruit,” which will shorten the shipping season. That will mean augmenting the company’s production out of the Northwest with imports a little earlier than usual, Davis explained.

Starr Ranch typically ships domestic pears eight to 10 months out of the year, with aa two-to four-month import program. This year, domestic shipments will be closer to eight months than to ten, he said.

Starr Ranch Growers is the marketing arm, of a group of growing and packing entities in the Northwest that include Diamond Starr Growers in Hood River and Gilbert Orchards, among others. Beginning this year, Starr Ranch will also handle marketing for Zilla, WA-based Stadelman Fruit.

In addition to being “a very significant pear player in the Northwest,” Davis said, Starr Fruit is a major producer and shipper of apples, cherries and stone fruit f rom the Northwest. The company also handles other fruit commodities, notably grapes and citrus, from other growing regions but is not involved in the growing and packing of those items.

“We focus on being a one-stop shop” across all fruit commodities, “not just our core,” Davis said. “really anything fruit-related, we can help you source.” With apples, pears, and cherries, “we can provide you with year-round supplies from our dual-hemisphere program …. so we can be that one contact year-round for retailers.”

The import programs are heavy to organic pears and apples, he said.

In its domestic program, the company is heaviest to D’Anjou and Bartlett varieties, both red and green. In addition, “we have Comice, Seckels and Forelles as well as “a new variety called Gem that is proprietary to Diamond.”

The Gem is “rather unique,” he said. “We are calling it a ready-to-eat pear.” It has a bi-colored (green and red) exterior, and it has “some characteristics similar to Asian pears.” It can be eaten fresh off the tree for consumers who prefer a crisper texture, or it can be allowed to ripen more over time, after harvest, to provide softer texture and a more juicy eating experience.

Starr Ranch offers customers “a lot of packaging options,” Davis said. “We are trying to do our best to invigorate the category, so we’ve got a lot of creative options on packaging that we are working on,” focusing primarily on fixed weight packaging “because it seems like in the Covid era, all of our movement I well up on fixed weight packaging. Consumer habits seem to be changing.” The company’s bagged fruit movement “is up 40 percent since March.”

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