Blue Star Growers expands with storage complex near Cashmere
CASHMERE, Jun 30, 2012 (Menafn - The Wenatchee World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --No, it's not another church or shopping center. Those fortress-like concrete walls going up just east of Cashmere will become a bank of sorts, an impenetrable vault to safeguard one of the region's most valuable commodities: winter pears.
The monolithic controlled-atmosphere fruit storage complex may not be the most attractive feature along the Highway 2/97 Wenatchee River Valley corridor. But, like the orchard it replaces, it is representative of the industry that has long propelled the valley's economy and which has experienced good times in recent years in spite of a tough economy.
The 7 million project will expand storage for Blue Star Growers by about 600,000 boxes of pears and apples. With 2.8 million 40-pound box equivalents packed last year, Blue Star is one of the nation's largest packers of winter pears. More winter pears are grown in the Wenatchee River Valley than anywhere in the U.S. The 2010 crop of all pears, much of it grown here, contributed 189 million to the state economy, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Blue Star General Manager Jerry Kenoyer said the cooperative has been looking for land to build additional storage for several years. It ran out of space long ago near its main packing plant on Blue Star Way in Cashmere. It has other storage scattered through Cashmere and Monitor and leased storage room as far away as Okanogan County.
"We hauled fruit back and forth 30,000 miles to leased CA rooms last year," Kenoyer said. The 10-acre orchard property became available earlier this year and co-op directors decided the time was right to build. The 14-room storage complex is being built by Bethlehem Construction Inc. of Cashmere.
Large scale controlled atmosphere (CA) storage techniques were pioneered in the Wenatchee Valley in the 1950s and are now used world wide to store apples and pears at low oxygen levels and near-freezing temperatures for year-around sales of fresh quality fruit.
Growers began planting pears in the Cashmere area in the late-1800s. Rail transportation and irrigation projects spawned more orchards and creation of cooperative packing plants to market the increasing volume of fruit. Blue Star got its start in 1907 as the Cashmere Fruit Growers Union. It changed its name to Blue Star Growers around the time Kenoyer took his first job with the company in 1955. There were five different packing plants in Cashmere in 1969, when Kenoyer became Blue Star's general manager. Today, Blue Star is Cashmere's only local whole fruit packer and one of few remaining grower cooperatives in the state. It has 115 grower-owners. Kenoyer said pear returns have been consistent and profitable the past several years.
Blue Star isn't the only thriving agricultural business in the area. Cashmere is also home to Crunch-Pak, the nation's largest handler of ready-to-eat sliced apples. Crunch-Pak is also expanding its facilities in downtown Cashmere. A few miles to the west, Independent Growers, another large pear packer, is adding a new storage facility in Dryden.
Blue Star handles 90 percent pears and about 10 percent apples. It packed more than 2 million boxes of winter pears last year, predominantly d'Anjou and Bosc varieties. Unlike Bartlett pears, winter pears require long term storage to ripen correctly. The pears are picked in September, put in cold storage, and then gradually released and sold starting around Thanksgiving and through the following year.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151
___ (c)2012 The Wenatchee World (Wenatchee, Wash.) Visit The Wenatchee World
(Wenatchee, Wash.) at www.wenatcheeworld.com Distributed by MCT Information
Copyright (C) 2012, The Wenatchee World, Wash.