Roscoe Crist: Apple Grower of the Year

Roscoe Crist: Apple Grower of the Year

Roscoe and Marylou Crist

Roscoe and Marylou Crist

Picking out J. Roscoe Crist in a crowd is pretty easy — his long,lanky frame puts him several inches above most people. But the reason this New Yorker stands out among fellow apple growers has nothing to do with his height. Rather, it is his willingness to break new ground, take on tough assignments, and work tirelessly on behalf of the apple industry that have earned him respect, recognition, and American and Western Fruit Grower’s Apple Grower of the Year award.

Now in its fifth year, Apple Grower of the Year recognizes a grower who not only is a skilled orchardist, but who also has a significant record of service to the apple industry and fellow fruit growers. Located in Walden in New York’s Hudson Valley, Crist Brothers Orchards Inc. includes about 500 acres of apples, with McIntosh, Empire, Red Delicious, and Rome as leading varieties. A state-of-the-art packing house and storage facilities (including 14 controlled atmosphere rooms) are also part of this operation that traces back to 1883. Started by his grandfather as a small general farm and transformed into an apple orchard by his father, Roscoe and his brother Edward took over the reins in the 1950s. With Edward’s retirement two years ago, Roscoe and his nephew Jeff are now the top managers.

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Pesticide Issues High Priority
Crist has played a key role in pesticide-related issues, mainly through his role as a member and then chairman of the International Apple Institute’s OAI) Environmental Affairs Committee. This committee convinced the apple industry that a survey of growers and packers to determine actual pesticide use — which could then be used to replace inaccurate estimates or “worst case” scenarios — was a vital move. Committee members — such as former Apple Grower of the Year Steve Wood and Larry Elworth, of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board — are bright, energetic, articulate, and also given to strong opinions. Crist downplays his role, but he obviously had the right personality and skills to harness that energy and develop a consensus.

“We never had what I would call an ‘organized’ meeting,” laughs Crist. “It was very loose, everybody had something to say, and we usually had at least two conversations going on at once.”

Out of this apparent chaos came the pesticide use surveys that put the apple industry out in front of all other agricultural groups. With its ability to supply actual pesticide use data, the industry has been able to refute erroneous assumptions, has bolstered its image as a responsible industry producing a safe product, and has gained the respect of the EPA and many members of the environmental community. The surveys have also been important in addressing questions on specific chemicals, like the EBDCs, a class of fungicides that recently were scrutinized by EPA. “I do not believe that use on apples would have been retained on EBDC labels without the IAI surveys,” says Crist.

Maintaining Research Is Vital
Maintaining horticultural research is another priority area for Crist. Retired researcher Chick Forshey says Crist has played a vital role in maintaining the Hudson Valley Laboratory, a research station that has done important work on behalf of New York growers. Describing Crist as “a strong and active supporter,” Forshey notes that, “In these days of increasing centralization, computerization, and bureaucratization, maintaining a strong field support station requires almost Herculean efforts by industry supporters.”

Crist doesn’t claim to be Hercules, but he knows the value of learning the university “system” and pushing for funding.

“You have to find out who the decision makers are, talk to them, and try to find out what they are thinking and what their priorities are,” he says. “Then you have to make your case to them.”

Broad industry backing helps tremendously to get administrators to support fruit research projects, notes Crist. But with the current political and economic situation, he also believes that growers will have to fund some projects on their own. The recently enacted apple grower self-assessment program in New York, with more than $100,000 generated in its first year, is a necessary step. Crist is very supportive of the role the IAI plays. But this wasn’t always the case. Years ago, as a board member of the New York and New England Apple Institute, he was critical of some IAI programs and priorities.

Helped Shift IAI Priorities
As a member of IAI’s “Forward by Plan” task force in the late 1970s, Crist helped develop the plan that led to significant changes in IAI’s structure and priorities. Top priorities — previously apple statistics and public relations/promotion — shifted to industry affairs, a broad category covering issues and government actions that could profoundly affect the apple industry. The changes in IAI were also instrumental in winning the support of the apple industry in Washington state, which previously has not been a full member of IAI. Crist eventually was named to the IAI Board of Trustees. Recalling the days before he was involved with the IAI.

“I guess I raised enough ruckus and wrote enough letters that I ended up on the IAI board,” he says.

He has developed a keen appreciation of the role that a national organization plays. “A state or regional organization is going to promote the apples of its growers, often in competition with other areas,” says Crist.

“A national organization like IAI can deal with very fundamental, broad based issues like food safety or increasing apple consumption.” 

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