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Ag Monthly | Pine Canyon resuming operations

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Gustavo Estrada, left, repairs a conveyor roller Dec. 5 that will transport boxes of apples at a makeshift segregation line that replaces the one destroyed in the Pine Canyon Growers fire on Nov. 25. The new line was being built in an old cold storage building next to the sorting lines in Orondo. Oscar Lemos operates the fork lift used to move the sections of conveyor rollers around the rooms.

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Pine Canyon resuming operations

ORONDO —  When a Pine Canyon Growers warehouse burned on Nov. 25, packing operations ground to a halt when part of a packing line was lost in the fire. But the company was able to buy old parts from other local fruit packers to get a makeshift line up and running.

Luckily everyone had a little bit of this equipment so we were able to piece it together,” general manager Marc Spears said.

The company bought the used conveyor equipment from Gebbers Farms and Blue Star Growers, which sped up the rebuilding process by weeks.

We checked with the manufacturer on brand-new equipment and they were three to five weeks out, so that really wasn’t an option,” he said.

The new conveyor is around 300 feet long, almost double the old one. It’s also closer to the main packing line.

It may not be a permanent fix, but they’re optimistic it’ll last for the season, which usually runs until the start of July.

Everything is in such a state of flux right now, so we’ll see,” Spears said. “This’ll probably be permanent for the rest of the season, then we’ll see what to do about add-ons and new buildings.”

Pine Canyon was already planning to replace its main sorting line when the 2018-19 season ends next summer. Now a new segregation will be considered as well, Spears said.

That’s the next phase, is figuring out what changes we need to make now considering we were already making some changes,” Spears said.

But quickly erecting a temporary segregation line was crucial; This is normally a busy season for the company.

Pine Canyon was just about to begin packing fruit for international orders when the fire hit, he said. A big chunk of its annual harvest is sent overseas.

The roughly 12,000 boxes of apples which burned in the fire were earmarked for their last few remaining domestic orders, he said. All of those orders had to be cancelled.

The company is still working with its insurance provider to assess the total damage but the lost orders and new segregation line should be covered under their plan, Spears said.

The insurance coverage also meant that the dozen workers who operated the line won’t lose their jobs as a result of the fire.


Oneonta’s Dalton Thomas named 2019 Apple Citizen of the Year

WENATCHEE — Dalton Thomas, the owner and former president of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, was named the 2019 Apple Citizen of the Year on Dec. 7.

The annual award celebrates a prominent member of the fruit industry who has contributed significantly to community development. The recipient is chosen by an independent committee of apple industry leaders.

The Thomas family has owned Oneonta since Dalton’s father Paul “Tommy” Thomas founded the company in 1934. Dalton, 76, retired as president in 2017 after more than 50 years.

Thomas has been the recipient of several agricultural awards over his career, including the Asiafruit Congress’ first-ever Impact Award for contributing to U.S. fruit exports to China.

Over the years he’s contributed significantly to the development of local sports facilities, including the Wenatchee Valley College baseball fields and Recreation Park.

Thomas will be honored at the Apple Blossom Festival’s All Service Club Luncheon on May 1 and will ride in the grand parade the following weekend.


Chelan Fruit Cooperative CEO leaving post

CHELAN — Chelan Fruit Cooperative CEO Reggie Collins will leave his post at the start of the year. The announcement was made Dec. 14. 

Collins, who first joined the cooperative in 2000, will remain in the company as an adviser.

Assistant General Manager Mark Stennes will take over the role of interim CEO on Jan. 1, the cooperative announced in a press release.

I look forward to leading Chelan Fruit and driving performance for all our growers; working with our employees, our customers, and our growers as we move our company forward,” Stennes said in the release.


Wine commission seeking wineries, growers for its annual review

SEATTLE — The Washington State Wine Commission is seeking wineries and growers from across the state to participate its annual research review.

The review allows the industry to weigh in on grant requests being considered by the commission.

More than $1 million in grants is currently being provided by the commission’s Wine Research Advisory Committee.

The review will be held at the Clore Center in Prosser on Jan. 16-17. Learn more at washingtonwine.org


Chelan County company fined for stormwater violations

CASHMERE — The state Department of Ecology fined a Chelan County company $3,000 for permit violations.

Blue Star Growers Inc. was fined for failing to submit water quality discharge monitoring reports for three quarters in 2016, according to the DOE website. The reports are required as part of an industrial stormwater general permit.

The company has paid the fine.

The industrial stormwater permit monitors what kind of pollutants stormwater picks up from factories and makes sure businesses comply with federal regulations, according to Ecology’s website. Businesses are required to monitor, measure and reduce the pollutants leaving their site.