Driediger Farms Ltd.
Incorporated in 1964, Driediger Farms Ltd. has been producing and distributing fresh, and now frozen, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries and red currants for more than half a century. Established by her parents, the farm is now under the skilled management of Rhonda Driediger, president of Driediger Farms.
Over the years, the operation has seen many changes including growth from the original 10 acre homestead to 160 acres of berry production. Rhonda works with as many as 200 employees in the growing season between the fields, the on-farm retail market and the packing facilities. Driediger Farms is one of the largest employers in Langley, British Columbia, and locals know it by name.
“In 2005 my husband Peter and I purchased the remaining family shares and are happily continuing the family tradition of growing quality produce for the enjoyment of the people of British Columbia,” says Rhonda. “Most people in the province know Driediger Farms for the retail market located off Highway 1, where you can purchase fresh picked and pick your own berries during the summer – an annual rite of passage for generations of farm-fresh minded people.”
Driediger Farms’ sister company, Blueridge Produce, purchases and packs fresh blueberries from many farms throughout the region and ships individual quick frozen (IQF) strawberries, cherries, rhubarb, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and other products. “Driediger Farms is the public face of our organization in British Columbia, while the industrial side is Blueridge,” explains Rhonda.
The company ships frozen product all over the world and blueberries make up the majority of exports. Large markets include Europe, the United States, Chile and Asia. “With fresh we only have up to 12 weeks to pack and sell,” she adds. “Having the ability to freeze product gives us the flexibility of selling on our terms. In 2014, B.Cc produced 152 million pounds as an industry. We are in the largest producing region in the world for cultivated blueberries and B.C. has the highest production rate per acre.”
The fruit of their labors
The blueberry industry in British Columbia has grown exponentially since 2000 and now includes approximately 28,000 acres under production, up from only 10,000 acres 15 years ago. “With this expansion of acreage has come the opportunity to expand our operation from just selling fresh from the farm to shipping fresh and frozen products throughout the world,” Rhonda explains. “We feel that agriculture’s future in British Columbia is benefited by controlling our value-added production which allows for risk mitigation and higher profitability for our farms.”
In order to meet this demand, Rhonda is proud of her company’s completion of a four-year, $10 million expansion that brings Driediger Farms’ packing and freezing capacity up to four times the volume of what the team was able to accomplish previously. “Our state-of-the-art fresh and freezing plants are providing much needed capacity to the rapidly growing berry industry,” she elaborates. “We are also now able to offer custom packing and poly-bagging services to our customers, expanding our seasonal operation to year-round production.”
Planting seeds of growth
Driediger Farms has a strong commitment to producing quality products in a sustainable manner, being involved in the local and agricultural community as a conscious employer. “Throughout our history of renovations, expansions and advancements, we have not lost sight of our most valuable asset – the people who make it all work day-to-day and our wonderful, loyal customers,” explains Rhonda.
Her focus over the last five years has been expansion. The business has grown significantly in that time, incorporating new value-added lines and the facilities to accommodate them. “In building this we have done the fresh side and the frozen,” Rhonda elaborates. “It took two working years to complete each stage of the expansion. We took down old buildings and built freezers and a new building for our frozen products. We saw that we needed an IQF tunnel to meet industry quality demands. There was a massive need for our value-added products so we had to make sure we could prepare for that growth.”
Now with two large operating plants, Blueridge Produce is pulling significant revenue through both fresh and frozen product lines. To keep the operation running smoothly and safely, the company performs several audits each year, including obtaining CFIA registration and SQF Level II certification. “We have a lineup of customers due to the quality, consistency and final grade of our products,” says Rhonda. “Our products are in final sized and graded form so they can be sold immediately without re-running. “She adds that the company has invested more than $2 million in new equipment, saving on rerun costs and improving plant performance.
With a growing international market, Rhonda and her colleagues are setting the foundations for continued growth. In addition to the new facilities, the company is also expanding its staff and recently made two new full-time hires.
“We look for highly trained people to buoy other staff,” she explains. “This keeps us operating with high standards of quality year-round, despite the seasonal changes in our business. Right now, we are ramping up our rhubarb production, which will double next year. We have recently achieved our organic packing certification for fruits and vegetables from ProCert, enabling us to reach out to a new clientele.”
By focusing on high quality produce and adding skilled members to the production staff, Driediger Farms Ltd. continues to grow as a leader in the fresh and frozen berry market.