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Rainier Fruit moves to regenerative agriculture

Yakima, WA-based Rainier Fruit Co. is planting more than just apple trees 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.

2018-Mattawa-3 “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,” explained Andy Tudor, vice president of business development for Rainier. “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.

“In some areas, we’re planting entire meadows where there had been just grass,” said Tudor. “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,” added Harold Austin, who’s leading the Xerces initiative for Rainier.

Rainier’s Xerces initiative helps to provide a stronger source of pollinators for the company’s apples, as well as 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,” concluded 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.”