A new cherry line in the central San Joaquin Valley could be good news for growers and buyers.

KY Packing LLC, Fresno, Calif., is installing the $2 million line in a Reedley, Calif., facility that previously served as a packinghouse for the now-closed Ballantine Produce Co. Inc. KY Packing purchased the facility early this year for an undisclosed price, and projections call for the line to begin operating by mid-April.

Stan Kaufman and Tony Yasuda, grower development director for Family Tree Farms, Reedley, are partners in KY Packing. They have hired Peter Ulibarri, former plant manager at Ito Packing Co. in Reedley, to manage the new packing facility.

Yasuda was familiar with the layout and design of the former Ballantine facility before the purchase, and he considered it to be well-suited for the new cherry line. Also, he knew that growers in the central and southern portions of the San Joaquin Valley were clamoring for a close-to-home alternative to shipping their products north for packing in Stockton, Calif., or Lodi, Calif.

The quicker cherries get to the hydrocooler, the better for shelf life, Yasuda said.

Growers “wanted to pack right here, so the fruit would get from the field to the shed in less than an hour rather than a two and half hour ride north,” he said.

Ulibarri worked with Boyd & Boyd Industries in Bakersfield, Calif., to design the new line, which will process as many as 20 tons of cherries per hour. With 11 grading tables and 14 packing stations, Ulibarri said there won’t be another line like it anywhere else in the valley.

“It’s something new we are going to try out.”

The line handles cherries as delicately as possible, according to Jerry Boyd, an owner with Boyd & Boyd.

For instance, cherries move between stations in water-filled reservoirs to avoid the damage that can sometimes come from conveyor belts and other equipment on the line. The special design of the line’s 80-inch stem cutter avoids cutting the cherries.

The line also can simultaneously prepare fruit for domestic consumption and export — since many countries require imported fruit to be fumigated with methyl bromide — and fill bags, clam shells or any other packaging.

It makes good business sense to meet the needs of area growers, Kaufman said, but the cherry facility is also good for KY Farming since the firm has expanded its cherry orchards.

“We decided it was in our best interest to start packing our own stuff,” he said.

It’s a big project, Kaufman said, and only time will tell how successful it can be.

Future expansion is possible, he added, “but right now, I think we should really concentrate on putting this cherry line in and doing a good job, and providing a good service to the growers that come to us.