“We are returning to market with another nice crop this year,” Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing for Rice Fruit Co. in Gardners, PA, told The Produce News. “The crop size is similar to last year, but perhaps down just a smidge. We’ve had very nice weather conditions during the growing season. We’ve enjoyed nice rainfall, but no adverse weather. We anticipate being within five percent of last year’s crop.”
The timing of Rice Fruits’ crop this year is, however, quite different than last year in that it will follow a traditional timing schedule, although harvest is pushed forward by a short period of time. The warm spring in 2012 brought on an early bloom and consequent early harvest.
“Growing conditions this year have been much more normal,” said Briggs. “The orchards enjoyed a traditional spring and cooler than normal summer. The weather for the past week or two has been more like fall than like summer at night, resulting in a later than normal harvest by about two weeks.”
The company was preparing to begin harvesting Ginger Golds at the end of the second week of August, and Galas were scheduled to begin the last week of August.
Rice Fruit will begin harvesting Honeycrisp apples about a week after Labor Day. That movement is followed by Red Delicious, Gold Delicious and Jonagolds around mid-October.
“In the latter part of October we’ll be harvesting Fuji, Cameo and Rome varieties,” said Briggs. “And we’re of course looking forward to another great year with the Kiku, which we have the exclusive marketing rights on in the eastern U.S. The Kiku has done super-well. It has received wonderful response from the buying community, and we get more input through social media, our website and even direct phone calls than on any other apple. It has a great profile: super sweet, lovely flavor, nice crunch and a pleasant aroma that all combine to make for an outstanding eating experience.”
She also noted that the demand for locally grown apples is having a strong effect on the increase in demand.
Its numerous apple varieties combined, Rice Fruit expects the 2013 crop to last well into next summer, and conditions are setting up to be a full year of marketing. Briggs noted that in August the apples were still sizing up nicely.
Rice Fruit Co.’s roots in the U.S. can be traced back to the 1700s, and the eighth generation is now working at the company. Peter Wolfe, the 20-year-old nephew of John Rice, vice president of the company, has joined the firm as a sales representative. Wolfe is the son of John Rice’s sister, Chris.
“John’s son, Leighton, also works for the company,” said Briggs. “He works with Mark Rice, John’s brother, managing the family orchards. This younger team represents the eighth generation of Rice family members to operate the company.”
Rice Fruit Co. continually upgrades its operation from a technical standpoint in packing lines, storage facilities and in its orchards. It is currently moving more from processing to fresh production. In doing so, it is planting more of all of the varieties that are doing well in the marketplace.
“Keeping our orchards updated with the most highly demanded apple varieties is important,” said Briggs. “Today these include the Fuji, Gala and Honeycrisp. We continually increase our acreage, and over the past year we have updated and replaced our packing lines with the most highly technical equipment available. A new single line sizer has enabled us to increase our packing capacity in the past year and going forward.”
Two additional projects have been underway or are newly completed at Rice Fruit Co. in the past year. To celebrate the company’s 100 anniversary in business last February, it redesigned its company logo and packaging.
“This season we are adding QR [Quick Response] codes to our packaging that allows us to share our heritage and helpful information with our customers,” said Briggs. “The second item of note is our newly integrated software system. Among the many technological advances that come with the system, we are pleased to introduce PTI [Produce Traceability Initiative] compliant labels on all of Rice Fruit’s packed items this fall.”