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Apple crop sitting pretty for Riveridge Produce Marketing

Don Armock, president and partner of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. in Sparta, MI, is ready to move a quality apple crop into the pipeline this season. “We’ve got a great crop coming,” he told The Produce News Aug. 17. “It’s not the biggest [crop], but one of the largest.”

Riveridge represents third-, fourth- and fifth-generation growers throughout Michigan and markets roughly one-third of the state’s fresh apple crop annually.

Where last year’s crop was hit hard by frost, the 2011 crop has been kissed by Mother Nature, who Mr. Armock said, “irrigated the crops well.” This is the year of the king bloom, and he expects good sizing as a result. “You tend to have a much more even maturity of fruit on the trees,” he commented.

Production in the southwest growing district is expected to proceed along fairly normal timetables. “Some districts are late,” Mr. Armock noted. Weather was warm toward the end of June, and heat came on during July.

Riveridge markets a full apple manifest, and the harvest for early varieties is ramping up. Paula Reds were to be available on Aug. 24, followed by Ginger Gold Aug. 26. On Sept. 10, Jonamacs and Galas will be marketed. Other apple varieties will follow in suit.

Apples are marketed under the “Apple House” and “Riveridge” brands. Mr. Armock said that the company also does private labels for a number of retailers and foodservice customers.

This season, Mr. Armock is expecting good apple volume for export. Destinations include the Middle East, Singapore, India, Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Scandinavia. “We do a good business in Canada,” he added.

The dynamics of Michigan’s apple industry are changing. “We’re rapidly changing our focus for growing for the fresh market,” Mr. Armock said. While acreage held by the Riveridge grower network has increased somewhat, Mr. Armock attributed higher volume to increased high-density plantings.

“Honeycrisp, Gala and Fuji are a big part of the change taking place,” he said about shifts to new varietals. “We’re also upgrading the mainline [varieties].”

Packinghouse operations have also changed dramatically, Mr. Armock said. To accommodate increased volume, operations now technology such as defect sorting equipment. “We are building facilities for the next decade,” Mr. Armock stated.

The switch to fresh production is also enabling growers to realize greater profitability.

Its six packinghouses are certified as “Excellent” by PrimusLabs, exceeding all food-safety requirements. “We’ve completed the loop on traceability on our master cartons,” Mr. Armock noted. Additionally, equipment will be upgraded over the next two years so that an individual apple can be labeled for traceback to the specific farm where it was grown.

“We’ve decided to be ahead of the curve on food safety,” Mr. Armock commented.