Consolidation of two recent purchases of Washington state apple growers and packers and other tree fruit highlights a trend that will continue, in the opinion of industry and financial experts.
One of the state’s biggest family-owned and operated apple companies, Broetje Orchards has been sold. Broetje Orchards LLC, FirstFruits Marketing of Washington LLC, and Snake River Housing Inc. were involved in the purchase.
The Tri-City Herald estimated the value of the real estate alone — more than 6,000 acres of fruit orchards — at nearly $300 million, although no purchase details were disclosed.
The business will be operated by three new entities: FirstFruits Farms LLC, FirstFruits Marketing LLC; and FirstFruits Community LLC, according to a news release.
Ralph and Cheryl Broetje founded Broetje Orchards more than 35 years ago, and it now grows, packs and ships close to 7 million boxes of apples a year, according to the release.
The new owner, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, plans a seamless transition to avoid disruptions for employees and customers.
Jim Hazen, former business manager at Broetje Orchards, is CEO and president of the new company, FirstFruits Farms LLC, and Chuck Zeutenhorst is general manager.
Another large-scale purchase involving Washington apple companies happened about the same time as the Broetje Orchards deal.
International Farming Corp. of North Carolina acquired Legacy Fruit Packers, Valley Fruit, and Larson Fruit, all of Yakima Valley. The combined companies are known as Columbia River Orchards.
The acquisition includes 4,000 acres of orchards and two packing facilities that handle about 4 million boxes of fruit annually. The purchase includes interests in Sage Fruit, Yakima; and Pacific Coast Cherry Packers, Wapato.
The Land Report earlier reported Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates paid $171 million last fall to acquire approximately 14,500 acres of farmland in southern Washington.