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New owners to add significant volume to Murakami Produce onion supplies

DSCN0297Six Treasure Valley onion-grower entities recently formed Murakami Growers LLC and purchased the Murakami Produce Co. LLC membership of retired owner David Murakami. Shown at the Ontario, OR, office of Murakami Produce are (front row) Ron Kuwahara and Glenn Kuwahara of Kuwahara Farms; Chad and Scott Cruickshank of Cruickshank Farms; Barry Klahr of Klahr & Sons LLC; Ronny Koda of Koda Farms; Rick Kitamura of Kitamura Farms; Chris Woo of Murakami Produce; Grant Kitamura of Murakami Produce; (back row) Russell Klahr of Klahr & Sons; Ryan Laubacher of Laubacher Farms; Chase Cruickshank of Cruickshank Farms; Ken Laubacher of Laubacher Farms; and Larry Kitamura of Kitamura Farms.Ontario, OR — Following the Jan. 1, 2014, retirement of David Murakami, one of four Murakami Produce Co. LLC owners in recent years, the onion shipper remained under the ownership of Ontario-based General Manager Grant Kitamura and in-office Sales Manager Chris Woo, as well as Potandon Produce Co. LLC of Idaho Falls, ID.

A major change occurred June 4 when Kitamura publicly introduced a group of long-time Treasure Valley onion growers who purchased David Murakami's portion of the company.

Six grower entities make up Murakami Growers LLC, and Kitamura said each has committed 100 percent of its crop to Murakami Produce.

The new owners are Klahr & Sons of Parma, ID, a third-generation farm that includes Russell Klahr, his son, Barry, and Barry's son, Alex; Scott Cruickshank of Ontario, whose third-generation farm is worked by sons, Chance, Chase and Chad; Rick and Larry Kitamura of third-generation Kitamura Farms on the Oregon Slope; Ronny Koda, third generation of Koda Farms, which includes his father, Steve, and uncle, John, in the Vale region of eastern Oregon; Ken Laubacher of third-generation Oregon Slope Laubacher Farms, which includes his son, Ryan; and Ron and Glenn Kuwahara of Kuwahara Farms, a third-generation onion farm in the Vale region.

"The group represents some of the Treasure Valley's finest onion growers," Kitamura said, noting the longevity of each farm.

"Murakami Produce Co. is both pleased and proud to welcome its new partners," he said. "This change of ownership will enable MPC to continue to deliver high-quality onions to its customers with these dedicated supplies."

Murakami Produce itself was started in 1969 by the late Shigeo (Sig) Murakami, who, with his wife, Mitsuko (Mitz)" Murakami, moved to the region at the onset of WWII rather than relocating to an interment camp for Japanese Americans. The two worked as farm laborers, and after the war they chose to stay and farm on their own in the Ontario/Nyssa area. Sig started Murakami Produce as the packing and shipping division of Murakami Farms.

In 1986 the Murakami farming operation ceased production, but Murakami Produce continued to pack and ship commercially for more than two dozen growers, making it one of the largest volume shippers in the Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion area.

Sig Murakami passed away in August 2002, and Mitzi died in August 2009. Their son, David, remained a partner in the operation until his retirement in January of this year.

Over the past several seasons Murakami Produce has expanded its physical footprint with storage and packing facilities while at the same time implementing new technology in numerous phases of production.

This season Murakami has additional consumer packing equipment for its two-, three-, five- and 10-pound bags. The Ontario facility consists of 250,000 square feet of insulated on-site storage for 75,000 bins, each with capacity for 1,500 pounds of field-run onions.

Through a partnership formed several years ago, Murakami sales are handled both out of Ontario by sales veterans Woo, Georgie Gabica and Gary Belknap, and by Potandon Produce's Idaho Falls office.

Kitamura said during the introduction of Murakami's new owners that the upcoming season was looking good, with healthy stands in early June. Water supplies are being monitored closely, and some growers have moved onions to fields nearer water sources, he said.