There are few businesses that can claim 70 percent of any market. Orchard-Rite Ltd. Inc. can.
The Union Gap manufacturer decided to switch from selling oil-fired orchard heaters and irrigation equipment to wind machines early in its 52-year tenure, in response to rising oil prices in the early 1970s. Wind machines help keep frost from forming on trees in an orchard.
Orchard-Rite officials say the company supplies 70 percent of the wind machines operating worldwide.
The company credits its ability and willingness to produce a high-quality product. For example, it opted to increase the thickness of the wall of the tower from 1/4 inch to 5/16th of an inch in response to a third-party engineering firm’s recommendation.
In addition, dealers are required to send employees to Orchard-Rite’s facility for training on wind machine repair.
“We still have machines running 40 years later,” said Ben Jensen, chief financial officer for Orchard-Rite and several sister companies, including Cascade Wind Machine Service in Union Gap, which serves as a dealer for Orchard-Rite wind machines.
The company, however, doesn’t dwell on its past achievements. In the past several years, it’s doubled its research and development staff and has continued to keep its eye on trends worldwide.
Orchard-Rite also wants to gain more market share in one key product: the tree shaker. The machine grabs a tree by the trunk (or a thick limb) and shakes it to get things, such as nuts, off the tree. The machine is designed to maintain power without damaging the tree.
The company entered the tree shaker business in 1990. It wasn’t the first company to make such items, but it has worked on the design to increase sales.
Tree shakers make up about a third of Orchard-Rite’s overall business, and the company seeks to get even more.
“We think we can grow (the tree shaker business) and mimic what we have done on the wind machine side,” Jensen said.
Orchard-Rite has been working on a new tree shaker that gets the product off the tree and then catches it. This is essential for growers of certain agricultural commodities, such as pistachios and tart cherries. Those items are more prone to damage if the product drops to the ground.
The company aims to release the new tree shaker by next summer.
Orchard-Rite is making advances on its wind machine to ensure it maintains, and perhaps even increases, its sizable hold on the overall market.
Earlier this year, the company released a quieter version of its wind machine. This was a response to regulations in some countries, such as New Zealand, that restrict agricultural machine noise to a certain decibel level, Jensen said.
To ensure that it was meeting those regulations, Orchard-Rite hired independent firms in the U.S. and New Zealand to evaluate the noise levels of the machine.
Orchard-Rite also started offering a new feature in which the wind machine can be controlled from a cellphone. There are options to connect via a cellular network or satellite for areas with little to no cellular coverage.
“We can’t rest on our laurels of the past,” Jensen said. “We have to continue to innovate.”