Good Fruit Grower

January 2013

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Good Fruit Grower of the Year Packer finds HIS NICHE W ith more than 40 percent of his acreage in the New Zealand apple varieties Pacific Rose and Jazz, Scott Smith admits he���s taken a big gamble. But planting new varieties has been his strategy for surviving in the Washington State tree fruit industry as a small grower and packer. Smith���s company, Smith & Nelson, in Tonasket, just 20 miles south of the Canadian border, is one of few remaining fruit packers in the area. Thirty years ago, there were more than 80 packing houses in north central Washington, with three in Tonasket alone. Today, there are barely 20 in the region. For many years, producers in the northern districts earned a premium by producing high-quality stripey Red Delicious for the export market. But as production grew, premiums shrank, and the Asian financial crisis of 1997 plunged many producers and packers into financial difficulties. Smith & Nelson���s larger neighbors, Chief Tonasket and Regal Fruit Company, which had been building storages and buying equipment to handle larger volumes of fruit, lost growers and tonnage. Both went out of business about 12 years ago. ���I think we survived partly because we had invested in Galas,��� Smith said. ���We hunkered down and tried to survive by upgrading the orchards. That���s where we still are.��� Scott Smith recognized that producing mainstream varieties in small volumes was not a profitable strategy. by Geraldine Warner Homesteaded The business was established by Smith���s grandfather Harold, who moved to Washington from New York in the early 1900s. He worked in packing houses in Quincy and Wenatchee before homesteading in Tonasket. Several people were planting orchards there, so Harold set up a small warehouse in town where he could draw on his experience and pack apples for his neighbors. Scott Smith stands in the first block of Jazz apples that he planted. The orchard in the distance has blocks of (from top) Skeena cherries, Sweetheart cherries, Barlett pears, and d'Anjou pears. 12 JANUARY 1, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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