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Vineland Growers Co-op expanding its nectarine production

With an aggressive growth strategy planned for the next five years, Vineland Growers Co-operative Ltd. is positioned to be one of the larger growers of nectarines in Canada and on the Eastern Seaboard.

Vineland is a major stone fruit packer in Eastern Canada and sells over 55 percent of the Ontario stone fruit crop. It provides sales service for its members for stone fruit and fresh market grapes, selling fruit across Canada.

“By the time we’re done planting over the next two years, the goal is to double again. That should give us close to 300,000 cases of nectarines,” said Michael Ecker, president of Vineland Growers.

“We believe nobody has a nectarine that tastes as good as ours due to our soil and climate,” he said. “It may not be the biggest or the prettiest, but we grow the best-tasting.”

With strong retailer demand for its products throughout Canada and the Eastern Seaboard, the co-operative now has varieties covering the entire season. Known for its great-tasting peaches, the co-op’s nectarines are following suit.

“Our nectarine varieties cover from start of season to end. We used to have gaps but now we’ve sorted out the best varieties for consistent yield and have the full season covered,” he continued. The ability to cover the entire season and the success in the taste department is what led to the aggressive five-year nectarine planting.

“We’re celebrating our 100th year and celebrating our history,” said Mr. Ecker. On June 15, 2013, Vineland Growers Co-operative will be hosting an event to mark its 100-year anniversary.

The co-operative was born out of a need for growers to collaborate to get their product to market. In 1913, four fruit growers from the Niagara Peninsula formed the co-operative and according the vinelandgrowers.com website the “first business transaction occurred (in 1914) when five crates of strawberries were received from the farm of Melvin Honsberger. This first shipment was forwarded to G.W. Duncan in North Bay and Clemes Brother in Toronto. The amount of the sale was $14.63.”

Today there are over 300 members located in the Niagara, ON, region. Gross sales in 2011 exceeded $33 million. Reduced crops due to early blossom and early frost in 2012 caused a slight decline in revenue for 2012. This year the co-operative is looking at potentially record-breaking crops.

Mr. Ecker credits the co-operative with believing in the preservation of family farming and working together with the growers and retailers to collectively grow. The grower can supply retailers across Canada and still have the family farm. It is one call for the retailer or foodservice operator to the co-operative to source the vast offering of products.

“With the reduced crops from last year, there is great potential as there was less stress on the trees. There’s been no winter damage to date,” said Mr. Ecker. “Our acreage just keeps growing every year. The proudest thing is that the 100th year will be our largest year.”