Orchard View Farms Inc.: Oregon Cherries to Please the World

The Bailey family has been growing and harvesting some of the most delicious West Coast staples available for four generations. Walter and Mabel Bailey established Orchard View Farms Inc. (OVF) in 1923, and throughout the last century the company has grown assorted fruits. Cherries, however, have been the company’s long-time staple for many Baileys, and OVF manages over 2,000 acres of fresh cherry orchards in and adjacent to the Columbia River Gorge.

“My brother Bob and I took over daily operations of the company from our parents, Don and Edwina Bailey, back in the mid ’60s and we have grown pears, apples, apricots and peaches along the way, but cherries have always really been our primary crop,” says Ken Bailey, OVF vice president and uncle of Bob’s daughter, Brenda Thomas, the company’s president and general manager. “It was really in the ’90s that we started moving almost completely into growing cherries and now we’re a grower, packer and shipper of fresh sweet cherries both domestically and internationally.”

From headquarters in The Dalles, Ore., the extended Bailey family – which includes fathers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews and cousins – manages some 15 orchards, but packs all of the cherries at just one headquarter facility. The company focuses on varieties such as Chelan, Tieton, Rainier, Bing, Lapins, Kordia, Regina, Skeena and Sweetheart, and these are packed fresh on two packing lines.

“We are still growing on the original plot of land,” says Bailey. “The rest of the orchards are a mix of owned properties and some leased properties, but the unique thing about this business is that you have to constantly be willing to change. We are always in the process of expanding and upgrading our operations and it all started with planting young orchards. From there you have to plan ahead for the year that those orchards will mature, because you’re packing and harvesting equipment need to be able to handle the increased capacity.”

Sweet Succulent Success

The seasonality of fruit requires many factors be taken into consideration, especially when looking at the scale on which OVF operates. The company, which produced 18 tons of white cherries and six tons of black cherries its first season 88 years ago, now packs up to 10,000 tons a year. With the season in which this happens only lasting a short two months, OVF maintains around 85 full-time employees to mobilize at peak and also manage the orchards and equipment until the next season. The company employs 550 to 600 seasonal workers during the two-month harvest and packing season.

Over the course of its history OVF has greatly expanded not only its production, but also its market, and the company has shipped cherries to some of the farthest reaches of the globe. The firm hopes to see its international exports grow as countries continue to invest in the necessary infrastructure.

“We have sold to 25 or 26 countries over the past few years,” says Bailey. “Other times we will sell directly to a distributor who will sell across a number of countries, so our cherries have really traveled the globe. There are some countries like Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines and India that we have had some small business with, but that honestly just don’t have the cold storage and infrastructure to take on more of our product. But then again, that’s what we were seeing in China a few years ago and then all of a sudden they invest in the infrastructure and business is booming and now we ship a lot to China.

“Cherries, like many other crops, are very volatile,” admits Bailey. “We export around 35 percent of the cherries we produce and they get shipped all over the world to South America, China, Japan, the U.K., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brussels and Taiwan. So we have to keep a close eye on how the market is internationally to be successful. We go to the places where the exchange rate and the supply make it valuable for us. Sometimes cherries are very expensive and the demand is very high, and other years they aren’t.”

Investing for the Future

As a highly perishable item with a short harvesting season, mid-June through early-August, cherries require the company look for ways to keep the produce fresh and firm for as long as possible. For almost two decades OVF has been using a modified atmosphere packaging system that helps to keep atmospheric conditions inside the bag optimum for fruit quality, hydration and firmness.

“We have a modified atmospheric packaging system that allows us to extend the life of our cherries and make sure they arrive fresh when they arrive in D.C. or Dubai,” says Bailey. “It’s called the View Fresh bag and the technology allows us to seal the cherries inside a modified atmosphere package, and we have been using this system for almost 20 years. It’s a technology we picked up from the vegetable market and applied to our own cherries, and it was something that wasn’t really popular in our industry until 10 years ago. We developed the system for cherries and we’re currently working on developing a system that would allow us to apply it to kiwis, grapes, blueberries and cranberries among other things.”

Even with highly efficient operations already in place, the Bailey family recognizes that there is always room for improvement and further expansion. For the next few years, OVF will continue to pursue its current track, planting young orchards and investing in the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the increased capacity down the road. “In the last three or four years we have doubled the capacity for our packing facility and we have plans to increase it by another 50 percent in the next few years,” says Bailey. “Parts of the facility could accommodate that increase right now, but for our business you have to make sure that the whole production line can accommodate that so we’ll be rearranging things.”

Aside from normal expansion efforts, Bailey hopes to see a fifth generation move up through the company. “I grew up farming and went away to school and came right back, but Bob and I tell the next generation they should do something else for a few years before coming back,” laughs Bailey. “And that’s exactly what my niece and nephew did. Brenda worked as a veterinarian for 15 years, then sold her practice, came to work and now is the president and general manager of the company. My nephew, David Orgega, worked for several years in a french fry plant before coming back to work for the family business and is now the production manager. Bob and I are gradually going to retire, but it definitely depends on how you define retire.”

With a strong family background of hard work and persistence, the up-and-coming Baileys are sure to pilot Orchard View Farms to continued success.