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Organic blueberry program spells success for Rainier Fruit Co.

 Rainier Fruit Co. has distinguished itself in the blueberry market through its organic offerings. “Seventy-five percent of our blueberry production is either currently certified-organic or in transition,” Director of Marketing Suzanne Wolter told The Produce News June 10. “We are finding our niche in organic production and competing with local berries in other parts of the country since our climate is very conducive to organic production. We don’t have the pest issues generally found in other more moist production areas.”

Production for the Yakima, WA-based company continues to respond to marketplace demand. “Our overall planted acreage is stable for now,” Ms. Wolter went on to say. “But volume will continue to grow as bushes reach full maturity over the next several years.”

Weather has been a wild card this production season. “We have experienced the coldest spring on record for the last 10 years, and degree days in all districts are behind,” she noted. “Additionally, we had the coldest month of April in Northwest-recorded weather history and the third-wettest May in recorded history.”

All this translated to one of the latest harvest start dates seen in the region. According to Ms. Wolter, the harvest is expected to begin June 30 and continue through the end of August or early September. “However, start [and] end dates are predicated by weather,” she cautioned. “We need consistently warm, sunny days to get this fruit moving.”

Volume is projected at four million pounds of blueberries, virtually doubling tonnage from 2010.

“We’ve become known for the excellent size, firmness and flavor of the berries produced on our ranches,” Ms. Wolter continued. “Buyers visiting our ranches have repeatedly commented on the large size and sweetness of the fruit. We expect the same from this year’s crop.”

Blues are marketed throughout North America to retail, wholesale and terminal markets. “We do have an interest in other parts of the globe,” said Ms. Wolter of export opportunities.

She said that the clamshell remains the preferred packaging for retailers and the only one used by Rainier at this time. “As production across the country has increased, we are finding more interest in larger packaging options,” Ms. Wolter added.