As the Yakima Valley steps further into the 21st century, a familiar scene from the fruit packing industry is fading into the past. Where rows of workers once wielded paring knives on samples to assess fruit quality, light-emitting scanners now sort fruit for defects, size and color.
Packing houses are taking this step in part to respond to market forces, both domestically and overseas. Retailers around the world won’t just go by appearances, they also want verification of a fruit’s quality through fiber optics and computer printouts. Demand is also high for an ever-increasing output of crops, so the packers need to ship out more fruit more efficiently. Other factors driving this trend are government food-safety regulations and a desire to cut labor costs.
Up and down the Valley, packing houses are either constructing new buildings or upgrading the packing lines in existing structures. For large operations like Allan Bros. Fruit in Naches, Domex Superfresh Growers in Gleed, Washington Fruit in Yakima, Valicoff Fruit in Wapato and E.W. Brandt and Sons in Wapato, the investment runs into the multimillions of dollars.