Jim and Rena Doornink
2009 Good Fruit Growers of the Year
Jim and Rena Doornink planted this block of Jazz apples last spring. Jazz will fill a gap in their harvest schedule between Honeycrisp and Fuji, keeping their workers busy all summer long. Photo by Geraldine Warner.
Jim and Rena Doornink of Parker, Washington, were named Good Fruit Growers of the Year for 2009 by the Good Fruit Grower magazine. The award is made annually to a grower or family who is innovative and inspiring, focuses on growing quality fruit, and contributes to the tree fruit industry as a whole.
Jim has been an orchardist since he left Washington State University in 1974 with a degree in zoology. His father, a physician, bought an orchard at Wapato in 1956 partly so that his seven children could have the opportunity to experience farming. Jim, the eldest, particularly enjoyed the science and mechanics involved and was the only one to go into fruit growing as a career.
The Doorninks have expanded the orchard from 64 acres in 1974 to 260 acres today. Diversification has been a successful strategy for them. They have cherries (both organic and conventional), apricots, pears, and Gala, Honeycrisp, Jazz, Fuji, and Pink Lady apples.
Jim has been a board member of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission since 1985, and chair since 1997. He was a member of the steering committee that drew up the Tree Fruit Industry Technology Roadmap, which ultimately became a national effort to reduce the cost of producing the highest quality fruit. The federal Specialty Crop research Initiative has provided millions of dollars in grants for research priorities identified in the Roadmap.
As commission chair, Jim is concerned about cost effectiveness of research programs and making sure the commission maximizes the return on its investment of grower dollars, according to Jim McFerson, commission manager. Jim is fiscally prudent, but strategically adventuresome, and recognizes that the industry must change, including his own orchard operation.
Jim Doornink checks the fruit during Honeycrisp harvest.
“He’s one of the few people I’ve met who welcomes change and sees it as an opportunity, both in his own orchard and at the commission,” McFerson said.
Jim was pivotal in the commission’s decision to support an apple-breeding program at Washington State University—an issue that was extremely controversial at the time, said neighbor Dave Allan. The breeding program released its first variety last year.
In addition to serving on the Research Commission, Jim was a board member of the Snokist Growers cooperative in Yakima for about 20 years and has been a long-time director of the Union Gap Irrigation District.
For more on the Doornicks, check out our Strategies for Success article.