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Bear Creek acquires Modoc orchard

Bear Creek Corp. continued expanding its Rogue Valley pear orchards Tuesday as another longtime grower essentially left the industry.

Modoc Orchards has agreed to trade its last orchard — a 430-acre spread near TouVelle Park — and its cold storage and processing facility on South Pacific Highway to Bear Creek, the companies announced.

The acquisition will allow Bear Creek to plant and process more comice pears for the high-end gift giant to sell under its popular Royal Riviera label.

We had an opportunity to bring into our holdings a piece of land that has been in pear production for generations, said Ron Henri of Bear Creek Orchards.

In exchange, Modoc will receive a 54-acre orchard on Table Rock Road near the Medford airport, which it will lease back to Bear Creek. Eventually, Modoc expects to develop that property, which is zoned for light industrial use.

It's the end of the pear business in the valley for Modoc, said Modoc general manager Ric Reno.

Modoc was founded in 1941 by Victor and George Joseph in partnership with Bear Creek's founding fathers, Harry and David Holmes.

The Joseph family now lives in New Jersey and has managed the business from there for years. But the pear business has grown more difficult for most commercial growers in recent years and Reno said the time was right for the swap.

The reason that this works for Modoc is that it allows the Joseph family to move from a large-scale commercial pear operation to something different, he said.

Modoc sold its other Rogue Valley orchard, roughly 100 acres off South Stage Road next to Stewart Meadows Golf Course, to KOGAP Enterprises earlier this year. KOGAP's Mike Montero says the company has leased the land to another orchardist and plans to keep it in agriculture for the time being.

Reno said the deal with Bear Creek on the TouVelle orchard was the best fit because it allows the orchard to remain an orchard.

Modoc has 11 employees and Reno said the company is working with Bear Creek to transfer as many as possible to that company. Henri said Bear Creek will interview Modoc's employees and try to place them.

While the acreage in the land swap may be lopsided, Reno said the values of the two properties are comparable because of the Table Rock property's development potential.

For Bear Creek, the TouVelle orchard was attractive because it allows the company to expand away from urban areas.

We are trying to distance ourselves from the development and position ourselves for the future, Henri said.

Bear Creek plans to remove the existing unprofitable trees and replant the orchard in comice pears for its high-end gift business. The company recently did a similar replanting with two other large orchards, the Royal Crest Orchard near Talent and the Foothills Orchard along Foothills Road near Medford.

The cold storage facility, which features the Modoc Indian logo, will be used for fruit processing or Bear Creek's plant business or a mix of both.

Modoc's exit from the industry marks the last of the mid-sized growers who pack their own fruit, said Dennis Hoffer of the Southern Oregon Fruit Growers League. The other growers packed their fruit through the cooperative Southern Oregon Sales.

Hoffer said mid-sized growers are disappearing because they lack the funds of larger players. Smaller growers often supplement their incomes with other jobs, but the mid-sized operations are too big for that to work.

What you are seeing in the area is that you are going to be a large concern like Bear Creek or Naumes or a smaller orchardist, he said.

Hoffer said the fact that Bear Creek will continue to use the land for agriculture is positive, but it's still sad to see Modoc go.

When you look at the big picture, he says, it's another grower biting the dust.