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|Articles - November/December 2013|
|Monday, October 28, 2013|
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In total, River Point grows about 6,000 acres of onions per year, utilizing a land base of about 85,000 acres from strategic partners, including longtime Umatilla farmer Bob Levy and sister company Hale Farms, a diversified farming operation that grows carrots, peas, corn, potatoes and blueberries, and is also controlled by the Hale brothers. Collectively, Hale Farms and River Point employ about 670 full-time workers and process about 1,500 W2s annually.
The in-house farmer network is one example of River Point’s vertically integrated strategy. The company also operates its own packaging and processing facilities — “and puts the seed in the soil,” says Hale. Such “source-based” practices have become increasingly important as food-safety issues take center stage, he says. “National brands now want to contract directly with the growers. They want to understand the entire supply chain.”
Nurturing close relationships with customers also creates efficiencies, an important aspect of doing business in an industry that competes largely on cost. River Point asks customers what they want before planting, prioritizes tightly managed supply chains, and prides itself on consistently delivering 180 semi-truckloads per week on time.
About that buyback deal: In 2007 the Hale brothers sold a controlling interest in River Point to the Dallas-based private equity firm, CIC Partners. The recent purchase, which wrapped in Salinas-based Taylor Farms and several other investors and partners, allowed the Hales to take back controlling interest. “We are Oregonians; we love the company,” says Hale, adding that the purchase puts River Point “in local hands to make local decisions.”
The ownership structure will enable River Point to begin expanding their retail business with Taylor Farms and Curry & Company in Brooks. The onion grower will also update facilities to meet the needs of contract customers and the new retail operations.
Expansion is on the horizon. But even as River Point tackles new initiatives, the grower is immersed in a longstanding battle: lobbying for a larger share of irrigation water from the Columbia River to fuel economic development in the Umatilla Basin region. River Point’s center pivot irrigation systems save millions of gallons of water per year, Hale is careful to note. “But we’re fighting for a way of life in Hermiston,” he says. “And it doesn’t exist without water.”
Finding enough available irrigated land to grow the company is one of River Point’s constant challenges. Yet the water wars don’t faze Hale, who continues to build his privately held, family-controlled onion empire layer by layer. “I love onions,” he says. “I’m passionate about the food industry. And I love what we do: grow food to feed people.”
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