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Provided photo/Stemilt Growers

The Skylar Rae cherry, known for its crunch and sweetness, is growing in popularity and production volume.

Stemilt, CMI partner promote a unique cherry

WENATCHEE — It’s the crunch that makes Skylar Rae cherries a coveted variety for consumers and retailers.

“It holds up really well when exporting it or shipping it. The shelf life is a lot longer, so it’s a great cherry for retailers to get behind,” said Rochelle Bohm, a brand manager for CMI Orchards.

Stemilt Growers helped launch the brand, which is owned by the Toftness and Van Hoven families of Tip Top Orchards, in 2015.

Then this spring CMI Orchards was brought on to expand market distribution. It’s a first-of-its-kind partnership for the two companies, fueled by the variety’s explosion in both popularity and production volume.

“(Stemilt) did a wonderful job establishing a market for Skylar Rae, developing a beautiful label for it and getting it into the marketplace,” Bohm said. “... With the volume that’s increasing, they decided it made sense to bring on a secondary marketer.”

The variety was discovered by the Toftness family in 2004 after they lost their daughter, Skylar Rae Toftness, to an illness, Bohm said.

“The story goes that they were walking through and they discovered this cherry and at the time they discovered it, a rainbow appeared over the orchard,” she said. “They viewed it as a sign that their daughter Skylar Rae was sending a message that they should look into this cherry.”

After growing more of the cherry, they decided to launch it commercially. Over the past few years, production has ramped up significantly, said Stemilt spokeswoman Brianna Shales.

“Anytime you have a new variety or a new planting of something, it grows pretty exponentially every single year, just because it takes so long to get cherry trees into production,” she said. “The first year you have boxes, the next year you have loads and it just grows.”

Now there are several orchardists in the area who grow Skylar Rae, Shales said.

“The demand for the cherry from the retail environment has been really strong. That’s why, for us, the season is going well because there’s such great demand for it both on the export market and domestically,” she said. 

WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center to hold showcase

WENATCHEE — The WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center is holding a field day for the agriculture industry in August to showcase local research projects.

Now in its third year, the event will cover topics across the horticulture, entomology and breeding fields, according to a press release from the research center.

Lee Kalcsits will showcase how evaporative cooling and netting can mitigate sunburn, Loren Honaas will explain gene activity in apples, and Betsy Beers will discuss netting trials to exclude stink bugs, according to the release.

The event is sponsored by the North Central Washington Fieldmen’s Association. There’s no fee or registration required.

Attendees will also honor the retirement of the research center’s director, Jim McFerson, according to the release.

The event will be from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 7 at 114 Sunrise Court, Rock Island, just north of the Palisade Road turnoff on Highway 28.

Beta Hatch moving into former Tree Top factory

CASHMERE — Beta Hatch, the startup that raises insects for use as sustainable animal feed, will build its flagship production facility in the former Tree Top factory in Cashmere, CEO Virginia Emery said on July 11.

The facility will use waste heat from a nearby data center to help grow mealworms, a variety of beetle larva, according to a press release. Once the mealworms are mature, they’re dried and sold for poultry and fish food.

Construction on the facility is expected to start in October and will likely conclude next year.

The Seattle-based company originally announced in April its intention to move to Cashmere, but didn’t specify the location until last month when its lease was finalized.

The building was home to Tree Top Inc for 50 years before operations stopped in 2008. The 18-acre property, which includes several nearby structures, was purchased for $5 million in 2010 by Yakima-based Cashmere Investments LLC.

Beta Hatch has raised $2.95 million in federal funding that will support the development of this new facility, according to the release.

The company also took home top honors — and $185,000 in funding — at Wenatchee’s Flywheel Investment Conference in April.

Cherry orchard clears county review

WENATCHEE — A proposed 250-acre Stemilt Basin cherry orchard has cleared an environmental review by Chelan County.

The approval includes requirements to protect 390 acres nearby for elk habitat.

The county on June 24 sent its determination of environmental nonsignificance to the state Department of Ecology for the Wheeler Ridge Company’s cherry orchard.

The Wheeler Ridge Company plans to grow cherries on 250 acres of a 640-acre parcel of its private property in the Stemilt and Squilchuck basins, according to Chelan County documents. The Wenatchee Sportsmen Association and Fish and Wildlife expressed concern about the impact the orchard could have on elk habitat. The agency can ask the county to reconsider its decision.

CMI Orchards produce showcased at the White House

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wenatchee-based CMI Orchards showed off a selection of apples and cherries from its American Dream label at the White House on July 15.

It was part of the administration’s third-annual Made In America Product Showcase, which gives companies from all 50 states a chance to present their U.S.-made products, according to an earlier CMI Orchards press release.

Some revenue from its American Dream label — which is available to any apple or cherry variety that the company grows — is donated to military and veteran causes, according to the press release.

“We created the American Dream label to show solidarity and support for our troops, veterans and patriots of our great nation,” Bob Mast, president of CMI Orchards said in the release. “What a fantastic opportunity for our company, and for Washington state, to showcase fresh products that are so important to our state’s economy and to the thousands of farming families this industry represents —and especially to do so in a label that honors the thousands of troops who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.”

CMI Orchards has more than 4,000 employees and represents several growers in NCW, including Columbia Fruit Packers and McDougall & Sons.