Rainier Fruit moves beyond organics to regenerative agriculture
Yakima, WA-based Rainier Fruit Co. is planting more than just fruit these days. Without much flair and very little promotion, the grower-shipper is dedicating extensive time and space to building healthy pollinator spaces on its ranches. The story here is more than just a business decision.
“Our pollinator initiatives and collaboration with the Xerces Society are part of the continual improvement process steeped in Rainier Fruit’s conventional and organic programs,” said Andy Tudor, vice president of business development for Rainier Fruit Co. “Whether it’s expanding pollinator habitats, using beneficial insects for pest management, adopting renewable energy or building biodiversity, for us it all comes down to being the best stewards we can be and protecting our ecosystem.”
The company, with help from the Xerces Society, is building habitat for beneficials, including both pollinators and predator insects in tailor-made plantings on the borders and interior spaces of its fruit ranches. “When we talk about our efforts to expand pollinator habitat on our ranches, people can’t really get a sense of how big these projects are or what goes into them,” continued Tudor. “In some areas, we’re planting entire meadows where there had been just grass. It’s a significant investment from a time and money perspective, but we do it because it is right and it is important.”
“We’re heavy into organics but actually managing a lot of our conventional ranches using soft integrated pest management strategies as well. It’s a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way to operate,” said Harold Austin, who’s leading the Xerces initiative for Rainier Fruit. “In the summer or late spring it’s really amazing to go out and just hear the activity: the bees, the wasps, there's been a huge uptick in the number of bumble bees. It’s really something to experience, the sheer mass of the different types of species that are out there.”
Rainier’s Xerces initiative helps to provide a stronger source of pollinators for the company’s apples, cherries and blueberries. “A lot of the natural pollinators are more aggressive and abundant in inclement weather. We see a vast array of pollinators — moths, butterflies, wasps,” said Austin. “The real plus is the increase in predator insects. Going out into our fields in this era, we’ve come so far from where we were even 30 years ago. Rebuilding the natural predator population — it’s a nice change and we’re really happy to be a part of moving us into that next phase of the industry. It's a move beyond organic to regenerative agriculture”
Prior to the launch of this program, Rainier was already working hard to eliminate pesticide use through beneficial insects, natural predators for pest control, and employing entomologists to manage insect populations. “No matter what we’re growing — apples, pears, cherries or blueberries — everything starts with the land and farming philosophy. We strive to do the best, and be the best we can — as people, as a company and as stewards of the land,” said Tudor. “It’s exciting to be part of something that is making a tangible difference, and will make a lasting impact for years to come.”