Diamond Fruit Growers recently marked 100 years in the industry with friends, family, industry partners, and fellow growers. One of the largest fruit cooperatives in the U.S., Diamond represents more than 100 pear and cherry growers with more than 6,000 acres of orchards in the Hood Valley region of Oregon.
Speakers at the celebration included special guest, Oregon Director of Agriculture Katy Coba, who praised Diamond Fruit and its vital role in the success of Oregon’s agricultural industry. Also addressing the audience were David Garcia, president and CEO of Diamond Fruit Growers, Brian Focht, general manager of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, and Scott Marboe, marketing director for OSRG.
Each of the men brought a unique perspective of the changes in growing, packing, and shipping, with photos to illustrate the evolution of the industry over the past century. Each spoke highly of the growers who make up Diamond Fruit, which entered into an exclusive sales partnership with OSRG in 2008 to create the brand “Diamond Starr Growers.”
In its role as marketing arm for Diamond, OSRG has seen the partnership flourish as technological advancements are made in traceability, food safety, packing, and even growing.
Marboe noted when Oneonta took on sales, it not only added to market stability but also created new outlets for Diamond fruit in the expanded retail base both domestically and overseas.
The partnership is a fitting notch in Diamond’s history. Initially a collaboration of four large shippers known as Apple Growers Association of Hood River, the operation grew and shipped apples, cherries, strawberries, pears, and peaches under the “Diamond” label.
Weather events brought changes soon after the cooperative formed, and pears eventually replaced apple orchards that fell victim to a devastating freeze. Expansion along the historical path included a canner and juice operation, and during the latter years of the Great Depression AGA managed to stay not only afloat but prosperous and constructed what was at the time the world’s largest cold storage facility. The four-story facility provided storage for more than a half-million boxes of fruit.
A workforce shortage slowed operations during World War II because many of the Japanese-American orchardists of the Northwest were relocated to government camps or other temporary housing. Change continued after the war with union contracts and the ongoing march of technology. Controlled atmosphere storage for pears came into play in the 1950s, and during the following decade AGA became known as Diamond Fruit Growers Inc. It’s Odell, OR, plant was opened, and in the 1970s Diamond began exporting fruit. A fire at the Hood River cold storage facility in the mid-1990s resulted in a move to Odell, but Diamond did not slow its pace and in fact became the largest Anjou shipper in the country.
The company’s reputation, and that of its marketing arm, continues to represent excellent quality and service, and Garcia, who joined Diamond in 1987 as an entry-level accountant, said the future is equally promising. He said technological advancements in the next five years will likely include a new packing line, and traceability and food safety will remain at the forefront of DFG’s customer service. Growers are currently USDA-certified and Global GAP certified.
Marboe praised the company as one that conducts business with “pride and consistent quality,” and he said the multi-generational orchards produce exceptional quality fruit.