Competition for this year’s Apple Grower of the Year award was as tough as ever, and although Jeff Leonardini took home top honors, the finalists listed below also deserve recognition. The information comes directly from those who nominated each finalist.
Dwayne Bowman, Zillah, WA
Dwayne Bowman farmed 1,200 acres of row crops and also owned a crop consulting business in Greenville, OH. Around five years ago, Dwayne sold his farm and consulting business and moved to Zillah, WA, and started farming apples, pears, and cherries with zero experience in tree fruit farming. In less than five years, Dwayne has literally doubled yields and quality on his farm. Dwayne is very innovative with tree fruit nutrition. He has a program that decreases bitter pit in Honeycrisp to 5% and also has stopped the alternate bearing. Dwayne is always looking for, and experimenting with, new products and new ways to increase yield, quality, and fruit size. Today Dwayne owns Sonrise Orchards and farms 130 acres of tree fruit, which include apple varieties like Gala, Golden Delicous, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and Honeycrisp. Dwayne has rapidly grown to the top percent of innovative tree fruit growers, and is gaining respect from many top growers in the area.
Jeffery Pavero, Highland, NY
Jeffery manages an apple and pear farm of about 1,000 acres in New York’s Hudson and Champlain Valley. He is at the top of his game in new and better ways of farming. The greatest thing is his work ethic; he works with his crew day after day. He is the farmer in this area that others see what he’s doing and they copy. I’m the packing house man and let me tell you we ship a lot of fruit and that’s because the fruit he gives me is that good! I couldn’t ask for a better partner to work with.
Donald and Michael Preli, South Glastonbury, CT
Donald and Michael Preli are co-owners of Belltown Hill Orchards, a third-generation fruit orchard. Since 1990, when they took over the operations after the death of their father, Donald Sr., Donald and Michael have expanded the operation which includes wholesale, retail, and pick your own. They have embraced innovative methods of raising and protecting fruit through the use of multiple systems of frost protection (heat, wind, and water) and through integrated pest management. Their evolving methods of raising fruit, coupled with a rich family history since their grandfather Louis purchased the first piece of property, are now being taught to the fourth generation of young family members who have an equal interest in continuing the family farm well into the future.
Charles L. Swanson, Corvallis, MT
Charles L. Swanson owns and operates the orchard that his grandfather started in 1910 when he came from Sweden to Illinois to Montana. He has expanded the orchard and is highly respected in Montana and also by those he knows in Washington, Michigan, etc. who are involved in the apple industry. Over the years he has been involved with the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station as well as the Montana Extension Office. He is willing to work with local growers to answer their questions.