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Orondo Ruby is a yellow-fleshed cherry  that has more blush and matures earlier  than Rainier.

Orondo Ruby is a yellow-fleshed cherry that has more blush and matures earlier than Rainier.

PHOTO COURTESY OF G&C ORCHARDS

Cherry production in north central Washington State is growing at such a pace that Chelan Fruit Cooperative is planning to build a new cherry line for next season.

Reggie Collins, chief executive officer, said cherry production from the cooperative’s members has increased by between 5 and 7 percent for each of the last four years and will continue to rise.

More cherries are being planted, but much of the increase is coming from orchards planted five to six years ago that are starting to come into production, he said.

The cooperative’s cherry volume also got a boost last year with the acquisition of Orondo Fruit Company, which was the exclusive packer for the Orondo Ruby cherry. The variety (MG2000 cultivar) is thought to be a highly colored mutation of Rainier. It is a chance seedling discovered by Marcus Griggs, a partner at Orondo Fruit Company. About ten years ago, Griggs, who grew primarily Rainier cherries with some varieties as pollinizers, noticed that one tree in a young Rainier block bore fruit that was distinctly different from the rest. The cherries had a full pinkish red blush and matured earlier than fruit on neighboring trees.

With the help of Ken Adams, president of Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, Washington, Griggs patented it and chose the trade name Orondo Ruby because of the reputation of the Orondo area for quality fruit and the pinkish color of the cherries. He went into partnership with his brother-in-law Bart Clennon to commercialize the variety. Their growing operation, G&C Orchards, is the exclusive grower. Until last season, Orondo Fruit Company packed the fruit and it was sold by Domex Superfresh Growers of Yakima, Washington.

This season, Chelan Fruit Cooperative will pack the fruit and Chelan Fresh Marketing will sell it. Collins said the cooperative expects G&C Orchards’s production of Orondo Ruby to increase from about 45,000 cases this season to around 100,000 next year.

Collins expects that the cooperative’s overall cherry production will grow to around 1.5 million cases within a few years. A new cherry line will be installed next year at its Beebe packing plant near Chelan Falls to handle its increasing volumes of Rainier-type cherries, including Orondo Ruby. In the past couple of years, the cooperative has already spent $3.5 million remodeling the red-cherry line at that facility to handle cherries for export. It also packs all its pears and some Golden Delicious apples at that location. Cherries and apples will also be packed at the former Orondo Fruit Company facility.

Marketing

Chelan Fresh Marketing is the exclusive marketer for Chelan Fruit Cooperative and now ranks as one of the largest cherry marketers in the Pacific Northwest with 3.6 million boxes this season.

Chelan Fresh is also the exclusive marketer for ­Gebbers Farms and Applehouse, Inc., in Brewster, Gold Digger Apples in Oroville, and Obert Cold Storage in Yakima and markets some fruit for Jackass Mountain Ranch at Pasco, all in Washington.

Cherries make up about 25 percent of the fruit that Chelan Fresh markets. It also sells 12 million boxes of apples and 1.5 million boxes of pears.

Mac Riggan, marketing director at Chelan Fresh, said tough economic times make it difficult for consumers to afford luxury items, such as cherries, but he feels positive about the increasing cherry volumes within the company and industrywide as long as the fruit is good quality.

“It’s always fun for retailers because it’s a seasonal item, and I’m hoping we have a good quality crop,” he said. “Quality sells. I would rather have a large quantity of quality cherries than a smaller quantity of poor quality cherries.”’

Riggan said having new cherry varieties to market is also a plus.

“I think it’s real important because retailers are looking for something new and different,” he said. “They’re looking for a way to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, so if they can highlight an item that’s unique and special, they’ll really get behind it.”