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Tree Top closing Oregon plant, moving freezer cherry operations to Prosser

Tree Top has announced it will close it Milton-Freewater, Ore. cherry processing plant at the end of the current growing season.

While that is bad news for the Oregon community, it is good news for the Lower Valley. Tree Top, a Washington cooperative, plans to move much of its processing operation from its Milton-Freewwater facility to its Prosser plant, according to Laura Dovey, a corporate spokesman for the company.

Dovey said Tuesday, the biggest impact on the Prosser plant will be in the freezer cherry division. In addition, Tree Top is currently actively seeking Yakima Valley growers to participate in the co-op's 2005 freezer cherry program, Dovey said.

"We are offering to buy cherries directly from the growers at market price, plus giving them an additional $5 per ton for delivery to our plants," she said.

She said Tree Top's closure of the Milton-Freewater plant was the result of an in-depth, long-term operations plan initiated a year ago by the company.

"The decision was made in December to move business lines to other existing facilities, including the Prosser plant," explained Dovey.

According to company CEO Tom Stokes, even with record volumes, the company saw an opportunity to streamline operations.

The biggest impact is on Milton-Freewater plant employees, but, said Stokes, "...it is the most prudent business decision we can make."

He said driving forces leading to the Oregon plant closure included rising energy costs, increased logistical costs and increased competition in the processing market.

He said the Milton-Freewater plant location was also a contributing factor in the company's plan to close the plant. The Milton-Freewater's lines will be relocated to other facilities, and most immediate will be the transfer of the freezer cherry lines to the Prosser plant.

The Milton-Freewater plant also processes frozen and blanched apples, bulk fresh apples, cherries and the company's Fresh Slice line.

In the meantime, the Selah office has launched its campaign to buy Vans, Black Republicans, Bings, Lapins, plus assorted organically certified cherry varieties for its freezer cherry program, said Dovey.

She said growers will receive payment within three to four weeks based on market price at the time of delivery.

She said growers interested in the Tree Top freezer cherry program may contact the Selah office at (509) 698-1431 or 1-800-548-4691.

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