Good Fruit Grower

July 1

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20 JULY 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER M ike Naylor began farming on his own in 1979 after taking over his father's farm. Within fi ve years, he converted to organic practices, before there were many organic certifi cation programs or much published research to guide him. He was 26 at the time, farming a total of about 50 acres—13 acres in peaches and the rest in raisins and table grapes. "My father had made good money the last fi ve years before I took over, so the fi nancial outlook appeared good," he told Good Fruit Grower during late spring. "The mid- to late 1970s were killer years for stone fruit, but that didn't last long and ended after my fi rst three years." In 1984, he began converting to organic as a way to fi nd a niche market and improve his prices at the farm. From the start, he had fi eld packed and sold his own fruit through a commission merchant, instead of dropping it off at a commercial packer. As he considered going organic, he had support from one of his main customers, an upscale market in the Bay Area. Another customer in Colorado was also supportive of his organic move. "Back then, organic was about trust and a handshake," said Naylor. "Organic certifi cates or certifi cation programs were not necessary then." These days, Naylor Farm Organics operates about 95 acres in two locations. Some 25 acres are currently fallow and would have been planted if not for California's severe drought. And despite the drought, his stone fruit trees produced a good crop. This year's season came about two weeks early. The season usually runs mid-May through mid-August, but he started picking this year on May 1. He keeps a crew of about 20 busy, starting with thinning in mid-March or early April and then moving on to picking. He pays by the hour because he found quality of work improved compared to piece rate. Most of the same workers return each year and stay through the season. Varieties are chosen by their fl avor and consumer appeal. Because peaches are more popular than nec- tarines, he has about 50 acres of peaches and less than half that in nectarines. He grows new and heirloom-type varieties, such as the newer peach varieties of Sierra Rich and Pearl White, but also the older Babcock and Nectar peaches. To market his fruit, Naylor uses Sutherland Produce Sales, Inc., which specializes in organics. His customer base stretches across the nation and includes large organic stores like Whole Foods and small specialty stores, restau- rants, and foodservice. He also markets his fruit in about ten farmers' markets, mostly in southern California. Organic challenges Once the decision to go organic was made, Naylor then had to fi gure out the how. "In the early 1980s, there wasn't much information about organic farming for stone fruit. None of the extension agents could provide information," he said. "Years later, the industry realized we were of value, but not initially." Scale was his fi rst big insect problem, and he had no idea how to control it. "I remem- ber as a kid that my dad missed a scale spray and he lost scaffolds because of it," he said. He fi rst used oil sprays. Eventually, natural predators built up and helped control the insect. "I got smarter as I went." Thrips, peach twig borer, spider mites, aphids, brown rot, and mildew have also tested his organic know-how. He's tried a lot of different things—released benefi cial Mike Naylor has grown organic stone fruit for 30 years. by Melissa Hansen 20 JULY 2014 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Organic PIONEER "Back then, organic was about trust and a handshake." —Mike Naylor

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