New fruit cooperative ready to accept 4,500 tons of local grapes

Western New York and Pennsylvania was once home to numerous grape buying entities. Over the years the area’s grape growing industry has seen a decreasing number of fruit buyers. Farmers from all segments of agriculture across the U.S. share concern for how potential acquisitions, consolidations and foreign outsourcing of large food processing companies will influence the regional demand for the commodities they raise. It is always encouraging news for farmers when they learn of a new or expanding market for their crop. This is currently the case for area grape growers.

The newly formed Lake Erie Fruit Cooperative is making the final preparations needed to accept 4,500 tons of grapes grown in the local area during the 2013 harvest season. The founding members and directors of the cooperative consist of Lake Erie Region grape growers that operate vineyards in Chautauqua & Erie County of New York and Erie County Pennsylvania. The vast majority of the grapes handled by the cooperative will be Concord. Other varieties such as Niagara, Catawba, Organic Concord and certain wine grapes will also be accepted on a limited scale. Additional growers are currently needed to supply enough grapes to meet not only the immediate demand in 2013 but also the steady demand into the future that Lake Erie Fruit has established for grapes grown in the Lake Erie Region.

The Cooperative will contract grapes grown by Member-Patrons on a tonnage basis thus allowing each grower to select the acreage upon which the fruit will be supplied to the Cooperative each year. The earnings for each ton of fruit supplied by a Member-Patron will be paid in a relatively prompt fashion in comparison to similar farmer owned cooperative organizations.

Member-Patrons will benefit by having use of a very large number of food grade one ton tote bins supplied by the Cooperative, quick turn-around times of trucks delivering fruit, and each member will have the convenient option to have the Cooperative itself pick up and transport harvested fruit directly from the vineyard.

Following the 2013 harvest, the membership body will be will have the opportunity to work together in a cooperative fashion as a means of developing new value added products derived from locally grown grapes and use of small scale fruit processing equipment that will be owned by the cooperative and shared among its members. The Cooperative also intends to initiate the ability for grape producing members to reduce input costs by participation in group discount purchasing programs to obtain agricultural supplies and services required to grow their crops at a more reasonable price than what each member would be able to achieve on an individual basis. To promote a high level of fruit quality and to assist in the management of seasonal farm cash flow throughout the growing season, Member-Patrons will have access to finance programs administered by the Cooperative for crop production expenses throughout the growing season.

Lake Erie Fruit Cooperative will begin accepting grapes in September at the AgriAmerica Facility located on Route 20 in the town of Sheridan. The general manager of Cooperative Operations will be Eric Huddy. Grape growers who are interested in becoming a member of the cooperative and scheduling fruit deliveries for the 2013 harvest season can contact the AgriAmerica field office at 934-9340 or visit the Cooperative website: www.LakeErieFruitCoop.com