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Western Fresh has new fig acreage coming into production

With demand for fresh figs on the increase and existing production levels not keeping pace, Western Fresh Marketing in Madera, CA, has new fig orchards planted, some of which will be in production this year.

“We have 40 acres in the [California] desert that will be coming into commercial production this year,” said George Kragie, president of Western Fresh. “We have an additional 40 acres in Chowchilla that should see a limited but commercial production by the end of the season.”

The new orchards will give the company an increased volume of Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Sierra and Tiger Stripe varieties. There are “still just limited supplies in the Tiger Stripe, but certainly more production in the blacks and the browns,” he said.

The Brown Turkey figs are being grown expressly for the fresh market, and acreage of that variety is increasing steadily, he said. Black Mission figs can go either to fresh market or processing.

A shipper and sales agent for imported and domestic fruit, Western Fresh markets not only figs but an assortment of other specialty fruit items such as papayas, kiwifruit, specialty citrus, Asian pears, persimmons and pomegranates. The company was formed in 1994, with Mr. Kragie as a founding partner. Mr. Kragie began selling fresh figs about 1988 when he was with Alkop Farms in Chico, CA.

New on sales this season at Western Fresh is Roedell Buchholz.

“Thirty-eight years ago, Roedell went to a local grocery store in North Dakota looking for a job as a grocery bagger,” Mr. Kragie told The Produce News. “That job was filled, but they had a position for entry-level produce stock clerk. He took the job and advanced from produce clerk to manager of the produce department, then merchandiser.”

He then became buyer and subsequently manager for a produce wholesaler, and then a buyer for A&P in Fresno, CA, for 12 years.

“Following the closing of the A&P buying office, [he spent] seven years as a salesman for Gerawan Farming. Now he will again put on his salesman hat for Western Fresh Marketing in the Madera office.”

The sales team is working out of a new office this year, Mr. Kragie told The Produce News. “We purchased a 75-year-old home [in Madera] and refurbished it.”

Western Fresh expected to begin harvesting its first California figs of the season toward the end of May in the California desert.

By early June, the harvest will begin in eastern Kern County, Mr. Kragie said.

“This is for the breba crop,” the earlier of two cops produced by the fig trees, he said. By mid- to late June, the harvest will start in the Chowchilla-Madera-Fresno area of the San Joaquin Valley.

Mr. Kragie said that he expects the early crop and the main crop both to be better than last year, “but certainly not a bumper crop.” He expects prices to be higher as demand continues to grow.

“We are looking forward to a good season,” he said. “It is amazing the amount of emails and letters we get from consumers” commenting favorably on the product. Also, “the interest by retailers for the upcoming season is very good. Figs have just come into their own.”