(March 24) YAKIMA, Wash. — The addition of a Northwest cherry packing veteran to Sage Fruit Co. LLC will help the tree fruit sales company with its first year of cherry packing.

Brian Birdsall, who grew up working in cherry orchards, on March 15 joined Sage Processing LLC, Sage’s cherry packing partnership formed in March.

“It’s good to be part of something that’s new and something I see that has a very bright future,” he said.

Birdsall, 48, came from Brewster Heights Packing Inc., Brewster, where as president and chief operating officer he restructured the company that included a cherry packing partnership. From 1992-2002, he was president and chief executive officer of the defunct Chief Wenatchee Inc. packing cooperative.

Sage entered the cherry business when it added Inland-Joseph Fruit Co., Wapato, as a partner in September, replacing Yakima-based Columbia Reach Pack.

Peter Verbrugge, Sage owner and partner, said adding cherries will help complement the sales agency’s yearlong apple, pear and soft fruit sales. He said Birdsall set up a similar partnership when he was with Brewster Heights.

“We’re glad to be able to bring in someone who has had many years of cherry packing and selling experience,” he said.

Sage plans to ship 500,000 20-pound equivalent cartons of cherries this season, which starts June 8 and runs through mid-July. The Inland-Joseph addition brings a cherry packing facility in Zillah to Sage.

The Zillah facility will allow Sage to pack cherries in consumer packs. The facility also has fumigation for export customers, Verbrugge said.

After inking a deal with Oneonta Trading Corp., Wenatchee, to market product under the Starr Ranch label, Columbia dropped out of its Sage partnership it helped form in 1999 along with Olympic Fruit Sales Inc., Moxee; and Valley Fruit III LLC, Wapato, to be the firms’ exclusive sales and marketing arm.