Good Fruit Grower

April 1

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30 APRIL 1, 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Fourteen families joined the venture with their cooperative Scotian Gold. by Richard Lehnert T here's a new apple farm on South Mountain in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. It's a corporate farm called Crisp Growers Inc., and it poses the question, could this be a model for things to come? Crisp Growers is a corporation owned by 14 apple growing families, all of whom are Scotian Gold Cooperative growers, plus Scotian Gold itself as a minority stockholder. For many years, the grower cooperative Scotian Gold has been the glue holding the Nova Scotia apple growing industry together. It takes a leading role in orga- nizing the growers, providing storage, packing, and sales services, selling them input supplies, plus offering them advice on what to plant and how to grow it. When a 240-acre corporate-owned apple farm dissolved in bankruptcy in 2013, it was really too big for any one Nova Scotian apple grower to buy and operate, and would create "issues in the pooling system" if one did. The idea came up that Scotian Gold itself would buy it. David Cudmore, the chief operating officer of Scotian Gold, said, "Some growers were not in favor of Scotian Gold buying and owning orchards." So the deal that emerged was that any members of Scotian Gold who wanted to could join in a new venture, a separate operating entity, in which Scotian Gold would be an owner (it has 13 percent). Crisp Growers would in turn be a mem- ber of Scotian Gold, sending its apples to the co-op. The 14 families contributed 26 stock owners. A seven-member board of directors will be in control, and an executive committee will hire a farm manager. It seemed important to everyone that the farm not be lost to apple production, but Cudmore conceded that the farm "was 240 acres of freestanding trees of all the wrong varieties." So last year, 140 acres of McIntosh, Cortland, Idared, and Golden Delicious were removed. The remaining 100 consisted of younger plant- ings of Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Ambrosia, and Cortland on a 12-by-20-foot spacing, and these were kept. T w e n t y a c r e s w e r e replanted last year to n e w e r h i g h - v a l u e v a r i e t - ies—Honeycrisp, Gala, Ambrosia, and Sonya—on Malling 9 and Budagovsky 9 on a 2.5-by-12-foot spacing or on M.7 on a 5-by-14-foot spacing. All new plantings will be in 12-foot rows, and the plan is to plant 25 acres of high-density orchard annually. While no one is saying this is the first of many, some say it could be. Cudmore said a key benefit to Scotian Gold is having a member that is motivated to plant what the market wants and not just what individuals want to grow, and thus it could be a force for innovation. Crisp Growers creates a vehicle to own and purchase land that growers and their cooperative want to see kept in apple production if it comes up for sale. For growers, he said, it provides a suc- cession option if no one in a family wants to take over the farm, and for farms with no succession option, it means they don't have to coast out of business—they are motivated to maintain what they have and continue replanting. Farming as a corporation, he said, makes it "ultimately easier to farm with our pencil and not our heart," making economic rather than emotional decisions and focusing on profit in the long term. For the co-op, the benefit at the start was gaining control of a large block of fruit that "caused an issue in the market." Last year, Crisp Growers purchased a house for the farm manager, and this year is looking to purchase 45 acres of orchard land from an adjacent owner. • Growers partner to buy orchard varieties, use the same kind of trellising system, and talk to each other frequently. Scotian Gold was formed in 1957. It has 55 members who produce all their fruit for storage, packing, and sale through the co-op. Another 20 growers contract with the co-op. Weekly growers' meetings are held from March to October, where they discuss orchard renewal, pest con- trol, harvest management, fruit maturity, and, last year, the trauma-caused fire blight epidemic that followed 90-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Arthur, which hit Nova Scotia July 5. In the shelter of the straw barn, Waldo Walsh talked about fire blight. Last year, he said, he adjusted his thin- ning program and decided to drop Apogee (prohexadi- one calcium), the growth regulator that is used to shorten and stiffen shoot growth. "That was a mistake," he said. There was a lot of tender tissue for the winds to dam- age, and, like many other growers, he will spend years pruning and spraying copper and antibiotics before his orchards recover. Eisses Farms In the two days spent on tours, the buses visited eight orchard operations, including one operated by John and Trudy Eisses, their sons, Peter and Dave, and son-in-law Ryan Swanson. Just the day before the visit, John had received IFTA's Grower of the Year award. John modestly admitted to having some of the deep- est soils in the valley, which he said certainly helped him achieve what are said to be the highest per-acre apple yields in Nova Scotia, approaching 2,000 bushels per acre in some blocks. In Nova Scotia, thin, stony, gravelly soils are common. Because of the weak soil, many orchards are planted on Malling 26 rootstocks, which are more vigorous than M.9 and Budagovsky 9. And many more orchards are free-standing, not needing trellis support. Starting with a mixed farming operation including dairy and field crops, the Eisses family concentrated more and more on growing apples, expanding plantings and replanting to the point where the farm now has 125 acres of tree fruit. The farm has 80 acres of high-density orchards planted to Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, SweeTango, Ginger David Cudmore RICHARD LEHNERT/GOOD FRUIT GROWER An optional tour to the fisherman's village Peggy's Cove on the Atlantic seacoast took everyone to the lighthouse, which was scarcely visible through the fog and snow. Luckily, there are brochures. Gold, Sonya, Gala, Golden Delicious, and Gravenstein. The Eisseses are among the province's largest growers of Honeycrisp. They use several rootstocks, including M.26, M.9 and B.9, but are making more plantings on the Geneva rootstocks, G.11, G.15, G.30, and G.41. The farm also has six acres of pears, including the new fire blight-resistant Harovin Sundown. Fire blight was widespread in their apples last year, Eisses said. Spurr Brothers Lisa Jenereaux, who has become a sparkplug in IFTA, a member of its board and a key organizer of the winter

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