Good Fruit Grower

October 2016

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Page 22 of 47 Good Fruit Grower OCTOBER 2016 23 I n early March, Steve DaValle's crews used a repur- posed trailer as a poor-man's platform to string wire for V-trellises throughout his Lodi, California, apple orchard. The manager for Grupe Operating Co. has been switching from vertical to V-trellises and grafting to new Gala strains to not only survive but improve in an indus- try that has been shrinking in California for decades. "We're battling," DaValle said. "Let's put it that way." California apples are not what they were and will never be again. The once hotbed of apple production, home of John Steinbeck's orchard tales, hardly makes a speck on the U.S. production charts anymore. Growers harvest roughly 17 percent of the fresh apples they did 20 years ago, while acreage has dropped by a third in the Golden State in the past 10 years or so. However, California growers are not only hanging in there, they're growing and innovating in places, hoping to capitalize on the seasonal excitement of fresh apples. "We're the first fresh apples to be harvested in America," said Jeff Colombini, another Lodi area grower. "We're a niche market." Washington's massive acreage, controlled-atmo- sphere rooms and cold storage allow Northwest packers to stretch the apple season throughout the year, selling out one crop just as the new one comes off the trees. California does little of that, instead marketing apples much like cherries, as a get-it-while-it's-fresh crop. "That's what gets consumers excited," said Kevin Ott, president of the California Apple Commission. "We pick 'em, we pack 'em, we ship 'em." California apple growers hang in there and invest with focus on fresh market. by Ross Courtney photos by TJ Mullinax California apple numbers (includes fresh and processed) 2007: 20,500 bearing acres, 180,000 tons 2015: 14,000 bearing acres, 73,000 tons SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE Golden State right, some of DaValle's changes include grafting some Fuji and Cripps Pink over to newer Gala strains and

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