(Jan. 5, 4:45 p.m.) Rick Eastes, the new vice president of sales and marketing for Fruit Patch Sales LLC, Dinuba, Calif., wasted little time in filling holes on the company’s sales staff.

Eastes said three veterans of the fresh produce industry — George Neves, Tony Supino and Jana Ferguson — have joined the company effective Jan. 5 with a fourth person due to arrive later this month.

The Fruit Patch volume for all commodities in 2009 will be about five million cartons, Eastes said. That figure could be a bit higher.

“We haven’t really worked out what our final table grape program will be,” Eastes said.

Neves comes to Fruit Patch after 14 years with Ito Packing Co. Inc., Reedley, Calif., Eastes said. Supino has been a salesman for eight years with Wawona Packing Co., Cutler, Calif. Before that, Eastes said, he was a retail buyer.

Ferguson and Eastes worked together when both were employed by The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, Eastes said. Recently, she has been helping with promotional activities for FreshSense, Parlier, Calif., he said. She began her produce career with the Visalia office of C.H. Robinson Co., Minneapolis, Minn. and also worked for the International Agri-Center, Tulare, Calif., home of the annual World Ag Expo, Eastes said.

The Fruit Patch sales staff plans to get an early start on summer and fall fruit, Eastes said.

“Right now, we’re concentrating on doing a really good job for our tree fruit growers,” he said. “The industry is hurting, and we have to find ways to perform for them.”

The fourth new member of the Fruit Patch sales staff is due to start Jan. 19, Eastes said. As a courtesy to the salesman’s current employer, he declined to reveal the new person’s name.