Good Fruit Grower

May 1

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Sustainable Agriculture organic apples T EASTERN his year, Anthony Owens will start his second decade as a grower of organic apples. That's likely a record for his location. Back in 2001, Owens and a few other growers in Henderson County, North Carolina, decided to shift to organic production and capitalize on the increas- ing interest in organic produce. Today, Owens is the last man standing in this group. He is one of the few growers of organic apples on the entire East Coast, and perhaps the largest. Despite Mother Nature's "help" providing new lessons every year, Owens has yet to They're rare because it's so tough to solve some production problems, the greatest of which is summer disease control: "If only consumers understood what goes into it, what I have to do, they'd have a greater appreciation for a fresh apple without sooty blotch," he said. Last year was not a good one for growers in Henderson County, organic produce them. by Richard Lehnert A or conventional. "I was hailed on five times," he said, and that was after damage from three late-spring frosts. He had very little fruit to sell last fall, and lack of crop also set back his plans to start a retail produce mar- ket near Hendersonville. He has bought and renovated a building on a major road, and hopes to open with peaches early this summer. He hopes that with more direct contact with customers, he can capitalize by being both local and organic—and sell more fruit at a better price. "I want to give the consumer who can't afford retail pricing, organic fruit at an affordable price, and also sell value-added products like cider LONE ORGANIC GROWER finds it tough one hand tied behind your back. Apple thinning can be tricky, he said. He uses lime sulfur and fish oil at bloom. Hand thinning is cost prohibi- tive, he said, but small apples impose a huge penalty when juice prices are weak. Among the 18 varieties of apple trees that were in the orchards when Owens leased them, most were Rome, Granny Smith, and Red and Golden Delicious. He has since found that Goldens and Grannies show the blemishes of summer diseases most and pack out poorly. He's now concentrating on redder varieties that don't show blem- ishes as readily. "We have in this area a strain of Rome called Jackson. It was found here locally, and it's so red, it's purple," he said. "Only a few growers have it, and I have 30 acres. It has good taste, I can sell it for fresh eating, and I tell cus- tomers it is healthier for them. The red flesh contains more antioxidants." "It bleeds beyond belief," he says of the reddish-tinged flesh. Growing apples in the Southeast puts growers into an environment of higher heat, higher humidity, and a longer season. Owens sprays every five to seven days and after every rain and relies on computerized models of insect and disease development to tell him when to implement controls. For apple scab, it is important to get good control early in the spring, he said. He uses sprays containing cop- per and oil while trees are still at the dormant stage. He uses copper sprays in the fall as well, on the leaves before they fall or even after they're on the ground, to lower the amount of inoculum that overwinters in the orchards. Summer scab control relies on sulfur but some effective modern materials pass organic muster. Serenade and Sonata are now being widely used—and not just by organic farmers—for control of foliar diseases like scab and powdery mildew. They are made from naturally occurring soil bacteria, Bacillus subtilis and Basillus pumilis, respectively. These bacteria produce antibiotics that suppress other microorganisms, either killing them or reducing their growth rate. Another spray product Owens uses is the pyrethrum Pyganic, a botanical insecticide approved for organic use and made from chrysanthemums. Surround (kaolin clay) is used both for insect control and to protect apples from heat and intense sunlight. —R. Lehnert 24 MAY 1, 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER nthony Owens's decision to go organic wasn't popular with many of his fellow growers back in 2000. But his current standing is quite good. He is president of the Blue Ridge Apple Growers Association and the only organic producer in the group. Owens believes in organics—he thinks organic fruit is healthier—but growing organic produce is like climbing a wall with

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