Good Fruit Grower

August 1

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14 AUGUST 2015 Good Fruit Grower D riving east across Wayne County in north- western New York State, just inland from Lake Ontario on the left, one is not sur- prised by the number of apple orchards. This is definitely apple country. What is surprising is the size and spacing of the trees in so many orchards. While growers there describe themselves as "in transition," the newer high-density orchards of modern fresh market varieties are like salt and pepper sprinkled among the meat and potatoes of older blocks of apples that will go to processing. Cornell University held its Lake Ontario Summer Fruit Tour in Wayne County in mid-June, and the goal was to show the "salt and pepper" and what growers are doing with new plantings to the 160 growers who attended. But all the orchards Good Fruit Grower visited on the tour were still heavy to varieties that go mainly for processing. One of those is Windmill Farms near Ontario, New York, where Bob Coene and his son Dave grow 300 acres of apples. Grandson Tom, 17, hopes to be the fifth generation to farm the land. They began transi- tioning to newer orchards and trellis systems 15 years ago, but they are far from finished. Bob says that only 30 to 40 percent of their apples go to packing plants for fresh sale, and most go to Mott's for apple sauce and juice or are shipped to Peterson Farms, 600 miles west in Michigan, for a premium processing market in fresh apple slices. Peterson has a huge slice of the McDonald Happy Meals market. "Processing economics is not good," Coene agreed. "It's hard to produce apples for 10 and 11 cents a pound." Still, he said, practically speaking, there are not enough trees or money to convert all the old orchards over to new ones in a short time frame. It is taking, and will take, years. The biggest factor when deciding to push out an older orchard is orchard age and, secondarily, how desirable the variety is for processing, he said. Just as consumer choices change in fresh market, processor choices evolve as well, and when a processor no longer wants a variety, and the fresh market doesn't want it either, the alternatives are abandon it, push it, or juice it. Processing advantages While a processing block may produce 450 bushels per acre compared to 1,000 for Honeycrisp, and sell for 12 cents a pound instead of $1.25, the processing block has some things going for it, Coene said. The biggest advantage is, it is older and paid for. Trees were planted at a low density, 450 per acre, without supporting trellis or irrigation. So the initial investment was relatively low. While apples on the bigger trees may not size as well or color as uniformly, the pruning and thinning costs are lower. The spray bills can be somewhat lower if the grower knows the block is being grown for processing. Copper and older, cheaper protectant products can be used as fungicides, for example, since apple finish is less important. And the processing plant is a great rescue market in years of hail damage or apple scab epidemics. There are no packing charges if a grower decides to take a load of apples, field-run, to a processing plant. So growers who have dual-purpose varieties can choose not to invest further money in lots that won't pack out well. The Coenes also own no storages. They sell everything from the field each fall. W ith so much empha- sis on exciting new fresh-market apple varieties, it is easy to forget that Americans consume more apple products processed than fresh. Even with the presence of Honeycrisp, Cosmic Crisp, and EverCrisp, apple crisp has not disappeared. On the average, Americans consume about 25 pounds of applesauce, apple pie, and apple juice each year and less than 20 pounds of fresh apples. While many of these processed products originate as sort-outs from fresh apple pack- ing lines—especially in Western production areas—there are places in the country—like Pennsylvania—where o r c h a r d i s t s g r o w apples especially for processing or take them directly to the processor with no attempt to sort out of fresh market apples. Good Fruit Grower asked two important figures in the apple processing world: What does the future look like for processing apples? One was Ken Guise, the president and chief executive officer of Knouse Foods, which operates six processing plants, one in Michigan and five in Pennsylvania, including the one at company headquarters in Peach Glen, where Guise is located. The other was with Dawn Drake, manager of the Michigan Processing Apple Growers Association. This orga- nization, a subsidiary of Michigan Farm Bureau's MACMA (Michigan Agricultural Commodity Marketing Association), has a special mandate under Michigan law to bargain with processors on behalf of its members for price and other terms of sale. Guise and Drake represent two sides of the equation—one needing processing apples as the basis of their business, the other supplying those apples. They sit on opposite sides of the negotiating table. In another sense, however, they are on the same side, because both are cooperatives made up of growers of these apples. Processor's view Guise said 95 percent of his company's apple receipts come directly from orchards and only about 5 percent from warehouse packouts. With reports coming from Washington State about apples being dumped in fields to rot and prices for juice apples falling to $20 a ton—if they can be sold at all—it's startling to hear an apple grower—and Guise himself grows apples—say he's Apples for PROCESSING Harvest IN TRANSITION PHOTOS BY RICHARD LEHNERT/GOOD FRUIT GROWER This is one of the Coenes' orchards with old-style trees and spacings and most of the apples destined for processing. While fresh is all the rage, processing varieties won't disappear overnight—and maybe never. by Richard Lehnert This new Coene orchard is SnapDragon, planted at high densities and on trellises. Growers are moving from processing to fresh apple varieties, but it takes time. by Richard Lehnert

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