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Ito Packing Co. Inc. in Reedley, CA, once one of the larger fruit-packing operations in California, has suspended its packing operation and discontinued its sales and marketing activities but will continue to grow fruit.

Craig Ito, the company's president, told The Produce News that Ito Packing will no longer be packing or marketing fruit, confirming rumors and speculation to that effect from several sources.

As reported previously in The Produce News, at least two members of the Ito Packing sales staff have moved to other companies in the industry, and several hundred acres of Ito's extensive orchard holdings have been purchased by other farming entities.

Mr. Ito said that he will continue farming, although he did not indicate how much acreage he retains or how much might yet be up for sale.

He said that his cherries would be sold by Morada Produce Co. LP in Lindsey, CA; his tree fruit would be sold by SGS in Traver, CA, and Fowler Marketing International LLC in Fresno, CA; and his blueberries would be sold by Fowler.

Ito Packing was founded by Mr. Ito's parents, James (Jim) and Yukiko Ito, who bought 13 acres and built a packinghouse shortly after their marriage in 1955.

At the time that Craig Ito became president of the company following his father's death in March 2000, the company farmed 4,700 acres of deciduous crops, including apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes, apples, persimmons, cherries and quince, and it employed about 900 people in the packinghouse and 1,500 people in the fields.

Ito Packing has been noted for several proprietary fruit varieties developed by the company, such as the Jim family of nectarines and the Rose Ito grape.