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Gau-Sco Produce & Pork Farm owner Steve Scott opens up the pumpkin patch to customers on Oct. 16, the start of its 20th season.

Malaga pumpkin patch still growing after 20 years

MALAGA — Steve Scott sits at the entrance of his 40-acre farm near the end of Gault Road to welcome folks looking for pumpkins and a relaxing experience — for the 20th year in a row.

During the month of October, Gau-Sco Produce and Pork Farm is home to about 2 acres of pumpkins that people from across the Wenatchee Valley come and pick for themselves.

Scott, the owner of the farm, said he planted about 5,000 pumpkin seeds and saw about 3,000 pumpkins come to fruition. This year's harvest was, however, impacted by a statewide heatwave back in July, but in the end things turned out better than expected, he said.

"I've had people come from different areas in the state," Scott said. "They say, 'it's one of the most unique pumpkin spots I've ever been to.'"

Besides the colorful pumpkins hiding among the brush — green, yellow, orange, white and a combination of all four — people come down to the farm to enjoy a relaxing walk around the property.

Some venture into a small corn maze Scott's wife designs with repurposed pallets, hand painted with bible verses and inspirational quotes.

Several families drove onto the property within the first 20 minutes of its 2 p.m. opening to the public on Oct. 16. Some families plunged into the pumpkin patch and others leisurely walked around the property taking photos or just took in the sights.

Scott said he knows his property is a favorite spot, but he still has plans to renovate.

"It's really neat to see kids come out and grab pumpkins, and it's a really unique spot. It's just got a lot more potential," he said.

The goal is to have everything done in five years, he said.

Fruit exporters look to different markets as congestion at ports grows

WENATCHEE — As international supply chains slow, fruit growers are looking at landing spots for their crops that don't require a ship. However, those alternatives are also currently plagued with difficulties.

"There's no surety of shipping at this time," said Steve Reinholt, Oneonta's export sales manager. "Things are getting delayed if you can even get them shipped."

The problems with international exports include a lack of shipping containers, no space on ships and a backlog in ports worldwide.

As an industry, Reinholt said growers in the state typically export about 30% of cherries, pears, apples and other fruits overseas. For Oneonta, closer to 40% of their product is loaded onto ships and sent to international markets.

"This year, we're not going to be anywhere near that," Reinholt said.

Domestically, the scarcity of shipping containers and a shortage of truck drivers are bogging down exports.

Riley Busheu is the director of exports at the Northwest Horticultural Council, a nonprofit that works on national and international issues of the fruit industry in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Busheu said the industry has seen these issues for months.

"The challenges that the tree fruit industry is seeing, our shippers are seeing, and some of what you're seeing generally is that container availability continues to be a challenge," Busheu said. "If you can get one, they're delayed or scheduling challenges."

When exporters do get a booking for containers and ships, delays at ports add another clog to the system.

"Everything is backlogged, so it makes it more difficult to move that product out the door," Busheu said. "And all this stuff just kind of stacks up on top of each other."

West Mathison, president and CEO of Stemilt Growers, said as a result of the slowdown, Stemilt has reduced its expected export shipments for the next 12 months.

"Thankfully, the apple crop is smaller this year and we'll find enough export opportunities with Canada and Mexico," Mathison said.

Reinholt said Oneonta is also looking both north and south of the border to move its product.

"We have two that don't require vessel shipping, we have Mexico and we have Canada," Reinholt said. "Both of those are being impacted to a degree by transportation as well because there is a domestic truck shortage."

The light at the end of the tunnel is not currently visible, but Reinholt said things will eventually work themselves out.

"In the fruit business, we're inherently optimistic or we wouldn't be doing this," he said. "If the ports can get themselves cleared out and get the backlog of vessels and the backlog of containers out of the port and get things back on a semblance of normal, I believe the thing will get back to normal."

Growers sue Chelan Fruit

WENATCHEE — Four members of Chelan Fruit allege in a lawsuit that officers and directors in the fruit cooperative didn't inform co-op members of an important transaction.

Co-op members DL Orchards, El Rancho Torres, El Rancho Torres II and Zaragoza Orchard filed the lawsuit Nov. 5 in Chelan County Superior Court against Trout-Blue Chelan-Magi Inc. — more commonly known as Chelan Fruit.

The lawsuit was initiated following an investigation by the plaintiffs and their attorneys, and after attorneys for Chelan Fruit did not answer grower questions at an Oct. 18 meeting, according to a news release from the plaintiffs' attorneys, Arnold & Jacobowitz PLLC.

The plaintiffs allege that Chelan Fruit did not inform them of a pending transaction with International Fruit Company, the news release said. The transaction was valued at $13 million, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also cited a report conducted by an independent consultant.

Chelan Fruit in 2018 hired consultant Ed Johnson to determine why returns were not competitive and what needed to change to improve returns. The process involved interviews with 89 of the co-op's 300 members.

The report noted allegations of conflicts of interest and a lack of accountability by co-op leadership. The report was not disclosed to co-op members, according to the news release.

Johnson was named CEO of Chelan Fruit in May, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Chelan Fruit could not be reached to comment and has not yet responded in court to the lawsuit.

New USDA insurance policy designed for farmers who sell locally

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Small farms that sell products locally have a new "micro farm" insurance option that simplifies record keeping and covers post-production costs like washing and value-added products.

USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) created the new policy based on research directed by the 2018 Farm Bill, including input from producers who grow for their local communities, according to an Oct. 6 news release. The policy will be available beginning with the 2022 crop year.

The Micro Farm policy, which will be available starting with the 2022 crop year, is open to farm operators who earn $100,000 or less per year in average allowable revenue, or for carryover insureds, an average allowable revenue of $125,000 or less.

The policy builds on other RMA efforts to serve specialty and organic crop growers, according to the news release.

The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation approved the Micro Farm policy in late September. More details will be provided later this fall.

The crop insurance is sold and delivered solely through private crop insurance agents. For information, go to rma.usda.gov.

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