A Thoroughly Modern Farmer Takes Apple Grower Of The Year Honor
Bye-bye ‘Braeburns.’ ‘Red Delicious’ — really? Cripps Pink’ — c’mon. ‘Goldens’ and ‘Grannies?’ Get outta here.
Of the eight top apples listed by the Washington Apple Commission, Scott McDougall grows just three, ‘Honeycrisp,’ ‘Gala,’ and ‘Fuji,’ — and his acreage of these is relatively minor.
McDougall, who handles the growing end of McDougall & Sons, while his brother Stuart is in charge of packing and shipping, could be called a thoroughly modern grower. He’s largely gotten away from older varieties, concentrating on high-dollar newer club varieties of limited acreage.
In part because of his bold approach, American Fruit Grower® and Western Fruit Grower® magazines are pleased to announce our 2016 Apple Grower of the Year™ is Scott McDougall of Wenatchee, WA. McDougall will be formerly presented with the award, which is sponsored by Valent USA, at the annual USApple Association and Apple Crop Outlook & Marketing Conference in Chicago, Aug. 25-26.
McDougall follows in the footsteps of such early award winners as Grady Auvil, John Rice, and Doyle Fleming, as well as recent recipients Bill and Jeannette Evans and Bill Dodd. But really, he’s taken an entirely different path.
When McDougall graduated from college in 1975, he and his brother Stuart were running a relatively small operation, Horan (their mother’s maiden name) Brothers. “When I first got out of school, we really didn’t have much orchard,” he says.
Their father, Bob, was running McDougall Orchards in Monitor. They decided to combine forces — exactly 40 years ago — and McDougall & Sons was born. They went about their business growing mostly pears along with reds and goldens like most everyone else for the next few decades, missing on some new varieties, hitting on others.
“‘Granny Smith’ — I was way off on that one, we just didn’t plant enough because I thought there was only a limited amount of people who would prefer a tart apple,” McDougall says. “But I remember planting ‘Gala’ in the late 1980s, and people were like ‘What?’”
Then in 1989, McDougall & Sons became one of the founding partners of CMI, a marketing company. The forming of CMI would turn out to be a wise move, as just after the turn of millennium came a series of actions that would forever change the fortunes of McDougall & Sons.
Going for the Gusto
In 2003, New Zealand’s ENZA wanted to build a program in the U.S. with such varieties as ‘Pacific Rose’ and ‘Jazz.’ McDougall & Sons decided to take the plunge, first growing the fruit, then packing it.
“We eventually became one of only three packers, the other two being Allan Bros. and Crane & Crane,” McDougall says.
The following year, 2004, the Okanagan Plant Improvement Company (PICO) put out a request for proposals for growers to get exclusive rights to ‘Ambrosia,’ a chance seedling found by Wilfrid and Sally Mennell among a row of newly planted ‘Jonagold’ apples at their farm in British Columbia’s Similkameen Valley.
McDougall decided it was a great apple, but it had two huge drawbacks, it was a big ethylene emitter and it had a short harvest window. Then came serendipity.
“Right about then was when (the 1-MCP product) SmartFresh began getting a foothold,” he says. “With intensive harvest management, we could get in and pick and store what was then a four-month apple, and turn it into a near year-round product.”
McDougall & Sons still holds exclusive rights to ‘Ambrosia.’ In 2015, the company packed 1 million boxes of the variety, more than one-fourth of their total of 3.7 million boxes of apples.
Overall, they pack for a total of about 100 growers, though they grow about half their tonnage on their 3,500 acres. They also have 400 acres of cherries and 200 acres of pears.