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New season brings new facility and faces to Snake River Produce

Though it hasn’t been without a learning curve, the 2018-19 shipping season at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, OR, has by and large been positive thus far, according to General Manager Kay Riley.

Riley said just prior to Thanksgiving that the new 30,000-square-foot packing/office facility has resulted in increased capacity and efficiency, and with both good volume and sizing in this year’s crop of Spanish Sweets the operation expects to move approximately 30 percent more product than it did in 2017-18. The operation also built new storages as well.

srpstaff Taking part in the staff ribbon-cutting ceremony at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, OR, were Kyle Erstrom, field management and grower relations; Bryce Marvin, food safety/human resources; Kay Riley, GM; Tiffany Cruickshank, transportation/sales and marketing; and Melecio Lopez, production manager. To celebrate the shed and season, two separate ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held in mid-November, with staff and warehouse employees taking part in the first on Nov. 16. Officiating with giant scissors at that event was J. Melecio Lopez, production manager of the operation.

The second ceremony included an open house, and Snake River Produce owners greeted dozens of well-wishers on Nov. 17.

Riley, who is one of the original owners in addition to serving as general manager, said the upgraded line has worked out well. “In the beginning we had some challenges,” he said. “But after a couple of weeks, we were running very close to normal.”

“We have a very good crop this year, and the line has packed what we’ve needed to pack,” he continued. “The new facility definitely made it easier to get through harvest, and we’re able to pack at a good rate with fewer people.”

In addition to its regular Spanish Sweet program, Snake River Produce also has a shorter season sweet program, and Riley said those onions tested very well, and he expects demand for that item to continue to rise.

Helping the large crop, with its large size profile, move through the facility and into the consumer pipeline, are new faces at Snake River Produce. Last year saw Bryce Marvin come on board to oversee food safety and human resources as well as Kyle Estrom join the team in field management and grower relations. This year Ross Nishihara, one of SRP’s founding grower members, retired, and grower Chris Payne bought Nishihara’s share in the company.

Riley said the newer generation has contributed significantly to operations, noting that Marvin’s food-safety expertise has been called on by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

“The growers love him,” Riley said.

Erstrom has been very well received by all the growers as well. “He’s very ambitious and is learning more all the time,” the GM commented.

Tiffany Cruickshank, transportation manager/sales and marketing assistant at SRP, concurred with Riley’s assessment of the new season, adding, “We have become more labor-efficient over the past few years, and the new line has further reduced the need for labor while increasing efficiency.”

She went on to say the automation has not been done to eliminate positions within the operation.

“We are not cutting jobs, but we can’t find people to do some of the work,” she explained.

She also praised Marvin and Erstrom, saying the two are “super motivated, and it’s really nice not to have to worry about those two areas.”

In describing transportation, Cruickshank said up until the week before Thanksgiving “it’s been manageable.”

However, she added, “We always see difficulties when Christmas trees start shipping. It also comes with cold weather, when we can’t use flatbeds.”

As for rail, she said, “We’ve been able to get cars up until a few weeks ago.”

Riley, who sits on the Malheur County Development Corp. that is overseeing a transload facility being built in the Nyssa area of Malheur County, said all deadlines to date have been met for the project to move forward, and the plan remains to have the facility operational for the 2019 shipping season.