quiet sale of one of the state’s largest apple companies means Broetje Orchards
has a new name: FirstFruit Farms.
sale closed at the end of 2018 and the business now operates under three
entities: FirstFruits Farms LLC, FirstFruits Marketing LLC and FirstFruits
terms of the sale were not disclosed.
real estate excise tax affidavit filed with the state Department of Revenue
lists the gross selling price of the real estate portion of the sale at $288
one of Washington’s largest family-owned and operated apple companies, the
Prescott-based operation, about 30 miles northeast of the Tri-Cities in Walla
Walla County, is now owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, based in
Orchards was originally founded by Ralph and Cheryl Broetje more than 35 years
ago. The philanthropic couple still are involved in the nonprofit Center for
Sharing. Cheryl said it was too soon after the sale to comment publicly on the
Teachers’ also declined to comment on details about the offer and whether it
was solicited by Broetje Orchards.
release from FirstFruits said the new owners are “committed to making the
transaction as seamless as possible to avoid any disruption for employees and
customers, and will continue the operations of several of the employee-support
programs established by Broetje Orchards.” Over the years, Broetje added
seasonal housing, a day care and permanent housing for employees.
acquisition of Broetje Orchards is a strong strategic fit for our natural
resources portfolio, providing a large-scale asset with direct exposure to a
staple component of the food basket. Broetje has a strong operational track
record and fits our strategy of investing in permanent crops that deliver
stable cash flows, strong risk-adjusted returns and inflation protection for
the members of our pension plan,” said Dale Burgess, managing director and head
of Ontario Teachers’ infrastructure and natural resources department.
Teachers’ manages the pensions for about 323,000 active and retired elementary
and high school teachers in Ontario, Canada. It is the nation’s largest
single-profession plan with net assets totaling $193.9 billion in mid-2018. The
organization already has agriculture investments in the United States and
elsewhere in the world, covering crops like almonds, avocados and dates.
transaction did not include any staff reductions or change in leadership staff
as Broetje Orchards transitioned to FirstFruits Farms LLC.
are very pleased with the current employee base and management team led by Jim
Hazen, the former Broetje Orchards business manager and newly-appointed
president and CEO of the company,” Burgess said. “We look forward to being
a member of this community and working with the company and its employees to build on its many successes in the
Hazen declined to comment beyond the news release
announcing the company’s sale. “We are looking forward to maintaining the
legacy established by the Broetjes to focus on growing quality apples and
investing in our people,” he said in a written statement.
FirstFruits Farms said it grows, packs and ships nearly
seven million boxes of apples a year, totaling about 500 million apples. These
include its proprietary Opal variety, marketed as a “lunchbox hero” for being
The company remains headquartered at 1111 Fishhook Park
Road in Prescott, where it holds 1.1 million square feet of warehouse and
FirstFruits Farms said it has one of the largest
contiguous orchards in the United States, with more than 4,300 acres covering
almost 10 miles along the Snake River. It also has orchards in Benton City and
Wallula where, together, more than 15 varieties of apples and cherries are
FirstFruits Farms employs 2,800 people
at harvest, making it the largest employer in Walla Walla County.
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