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Sunwest continues steady expansion in acreage, Navels and Mandarins

Sun West Fruit Co. Inc., in Parlier, CA, a vertically integrated grower-packer-shipper of citrus and stone fruit and already one of the larger growers of citrus in California, continues to expand its producing citrus acreage, principally in Navels and Mandarins, according to Doug Sankey, vice president of sales and marketing.

Sankey-Doug-2011
Doug Sankey

“We are continuing to grow, especially in the clementine Mandarin commodity,” he said. In that item, “we are on a very solid growth pattern by a good 15-20 percent annually” with “more and more ranches coming into play. We have a truly seedless program in the sense that all of our ranches are isolated out here in the tree fruit growing area,” away from other citrus that could cross-pollinate and create seediness, he said. “But on top of that, any ranches that we have had any issues with — any form of seeding at all — we have been netting.”

Sunwest has been expanding its Navel program by about 15 percent each year, although with a lighter crop this year, the actual harvested volume is expected to be “probably even” with last year, Mr. Sankey said.

The company also grows Cara Caras, and plantings of those have been “growing at a similar rate.” In addition, “we have quite a bit of new production of Tango variety [Mandarins] coming in,” Mr. Sankey said. “We have some late-season Minneolas” as well, but we are not a big player in the Minneola deal.”

Sunwest is owned by the Britz family and is part of the Britz family of businesses, which is a group of diverse agribusiness companies. Historically, the company has grown almost all of its own fruit and done very little with outside growers. However, Mr. Sankey confirmed that this year, Sunwest will be marketing part of the Navel oranges grown by Sun World, CA, as the Bakersfield, CA-based organization phases out its in-house citrus marketing program.

The Britz family ... is licensed with Sun World to plant some of their proprietary plums,” he said. “Obviously, we are looking for the best varieties possible, and Sun World had some excellent plums with certain flesh colors that fit our program well. But [with] most of that stone fruit, we are actually planting those varieties ourselves. Because of that, we have formed a relationship [with Sun World] that has now evolved into us handling some of their citrus as well.”

Primarily, Sunwest will be handling early Navels and late Navels from Sun World. “The early fruit we are handling for them are Fukumotos. We like the variety.” On the late side, “we are the largest individual grower of late Navels in the industry,” so the Sun World fruit compliments that with “additional volume in that particular period,” he said.

On the food-safety front, “Sunwest is GlobalGAP certified now on all four ranches,” Mr. Sankey said. In the packing plant, “I believe we are still the only California citrus house that is SQF certified on citrus.” Also, “we continue to put a major emphasis on the sustainability piece, where the majority of our acreage is third-party certified by Protected Harvest.”