Studying new growing, storage and packing techniques
One of Riveridge’s grower-partners, Sunrise Orchards is a grower/packer located in Gays Mills, Wisconsin. The facility stores, sorts and ships apples grown in its own 225-acre orchards along with apples from six other farms in the Orchard Ridge area outside Gays Mills. Sunrise has packed its own apples since it was founded – a neat 100 years ago. In the early days, apples were packed in the field in barrels and shipped on the local railroad! Sometime later, a building dedicated to sorting and packing apples was built to fill ring-faced bushels. Another early innovation was a dry-brush grading line.
Today, ring-faced apple barrels are history and Sunrise Orchards has replaced them with a modern, high-tech sorting system and Greefa® color- and defect-sorting technology. NewTek® automatic baggers and tote-fillers were recently added. Another innovation over the years has been on-farm chilled and controlled atmosphere storage capacity, and the adoption of SmartFresh® storage technology to provide high-quality apples to retailer grocers for several months of the year. “We’ve made a concentrated effort to study new growing, storage and packing techniques from Riveridge and other grower-packers, and bring those ideas back to our facility,” says Allen Teach, president of Sunrise Orchards and packing. The company is known throughout the wholesale apple industry as a supplier of high-quality McIntosh, Honeycrisp and Cortland apples, as well as cider. It is certified annually by USDA GAP audits, HACCP planning and third-party Primus® audits to demonstrate a commitment to food safety.
Operating within a community under 400 residents, the local labor market is particularly challenging. Nontheless, Sunrise has made hiring local a priority that has had a big impact sustaining this small, rural community. Many employees have more than 30 years on the Sunrise staff! Challenges in labor availability led Sunrise to focus labor sustainability efforts around automation, and improving worker conditions. Being logistically isolated from the processed apple market, Sunrise uses select apples to make its own cider for wholesale and retail. The pulp byproduct derived from making cider is offered free of charge to local dairy farmers, who feed it to their livestock.
In the coming year, improvements to the apple packing facility will improve worker ergonomics, comfort and safety. The company will also convert illumination of the packing house to all LED lighting to reduce energy costs and heat emissions that will improve employee comfort when packing apples in the late summer months. The Teach family values its good reputation for packing apples in the northern headwaters of the Mississippi River. “As we look back on the 100 years of Sunrise Orchard and packing, we’re as proud of our local roots as we are of our modern high-tech sorting equipment and new apple varieties,” Teach says.