Morada Produce: Solid grower base in every cherry growing district

In its California cherry program, Morada Produce Co. LP in Stockton, CA, is “fortunate” to have “a good solid grower base in every major growing district” throughout the state, according to Michael Jameson, who handles export sales for the company.

That provides the benefit of assuring a steady supply of fruit throughout the season.

For the early part of the California cherry season, “we have a lot of our own tonnage” from company orchards in the Bakersfield-Arvin-Shafter area, Jameson said. “We also have a number of outside growers in that region,” he said.

As the season progresses and the harvest moves from the southern San Joaquin Valley into the central and then the northern parts of the valley, Morada also has good production in the Fresno-Reedley-Hanford area and in the Stockton-Lodi-Linden area, he said. For the late end of the California season, the company has production in Hollister and Gilroy, nearer the coast.

In each of those districts, “we have a good solid grower base,” Jameson reiterated. “We are not strong in one area and weak in another. We are strong in every district. That was our initial plan when we started 12 years ago, to make sure that we had a continuity of supply for our customer base from the start of the California season all the way through to the end. Through the years, we have worked very hard to make sure that we had enough growers in place and enough volume in place in every major growing district” to be able to meet customers’ demands “from start to finish” throughout the season.

The company has further increased its grower base for 2014, he said. “We have picked up a number of new growers that we did not have last season that we will be serving for this coming season, which will add to our tonnage. These are new growers we didn’t have last year. Through hard work from our field staff, we have secured their tonnage for this upcoming season, so we will be handling their product,” doing both the packing and the marketing for them.

With the company’s sown production and a strong outside grower base, including “at least 15 new growers” on board, even though the crop in the southern and central San Joaquin Valley is expected to be light this year, Morada is well-positioned to meet customer expectations throughout the season. “We are fortunate at Morada Produce that our long-term company plan has been to make sure that we have a good supply of product in every growing district,” Jameson said.

With regard to varietals, “we are strong in every variety,” he said. “We have Brooks, Tulares, Corals, Garnets, Chelans, Bings and Rainiers. We are also planting new varieties like Royal Hazel, Royal Lynn and Royal Tioga.”

Morada has planted between 650 acres and 700 acres of new cherry orchards in the last two or three years in the Arvin-Bakersfield area in the south valley, Jameson said. “We already have a lot of our own production down there,” mostly on trees that are 15 to 17 years old, he said.

Most of the company’s new plantings in that district are the Coral variety. Those “will start coming into production next season,” he said.

One advantage of the Coral variety in an early district is that it requires less chilling than Brooks or Tulares, Jameson said. “It is a good piece of fruit, it gets good size, it is a meaty piece of fruit, it gets a nice dark color, and it has good shelf life [and] great flavor.” The Coral also has the ability to grow in various regions of California from Arvin to Stockton, unlike Brooks and Tulares, which don’t do well in the north and Bings which do not do well in the south. “You will see, in the years to come, more and more Corals being planted.”

Last year, Morada installed a 40-lane Unitec optical sorter in its cherry packing facility. “Our optical sorter is phenomenal,” Jameson said, reflecting on the first year’s experience with the machine. “The pack we put up is a consistent high-quality pack.” Optical sorting is “the wave of the future. We have plans to put another brand new line in for the 2015 season,” which will be the company’s fourth cherry packingline.

The company also installed high-end clamshell machines last year, as well as a high-tech sampling machine that has proven to be “a fantastic tool for us to evaluate each grower block that comes in from the field” in terms of such factors as fruit size, color, defects, pressure and sugar levels.

“That being said,” he said, “you can have all the technology in the world, but you have to have great personnel running it, and that is something that we have” at Morada Produce.

The owner, Skip Foppiano, “is focused on the quality of the fruit that we put out consistently on a day-to-day basis” and on staying “ahead of the curve” with regard to technology. But he also has “a great team of employees that work for him and do a phenomenal job throughout the season,” whether it is in the orchard, in the packinghouse, in the shipping department or in the office, Jameson said. They make sure “that the fruit is handled as gently as possible, that we are putting out the highest quality pack we possibly can, and that we are putting it in the right pack style for different demands of customers both domestically and worldwide.”

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