2010 Apple Grower Of The Year Finalists
Along with naming Mike Taylor as the 2010 Apple Grower of the Year, American and Western Fruit Grower has named four additional finalists for this year’s award. The list of elite growers below should be recognized for their commitment to growing high-quality fruit each year, as well as their efforts to help other growers maintain a profitable future. The information below comes directly from those who nominated each of them.
I have known Chip since the early 1990s and am more impressed with him each year. Chip is always at the cutting edge of his profession. He understands his trees and gets them to perform to their potential. His fruit is always exceptional quality and he will not pick for profit until the fruit is at the proper maturity level — something that would increase nationwide consumption substantially if more growers would do it. This season he installed a wind turbine, another sign of his progressiveness. He treats his employees with respect and is one of a few that has dared to fill out H-2A forms and gotten through it! He was a past board member of International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) and works closely with Cornell on various projects. As well as Chip does at growing fruit, I am sure he considers his family the most important thing at the end of the day. On more than one occasion, I have known him to put family before important meetings and he finds the time to take needed breaks with them. I find Chip to be among the most honest in the industry and he freely shares his knowledge.
Jim Eckert is in charge of fruit production for Eckert Orchards Inc., where apple production has successfully shifted from a large scale wholesale apple production company to what is possibly both the largest and best managed direct marketer of apples in the U.S. Jim has generously lent his clear organizational thinking and leadership to the apple industry locally and nationally. He was responsible for establishing the largest planting of seedling apple trees for the Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA), donated their care for the greater good of the group for the next 10 years, and recently was responsible for acquiring federal grant money to establish and care for the advanced MAIA selections at multiple grower locations in Illinois.
Jim has led the way in helping other growers see the need to accept cultivar improvement responsibility and how it can most efficiently meet grower and consumer needs in an increasingly competitive world. Jim always helps us by sharing his apple successes and failures. He has served in numerous leadership positions for the apple industry in his state and as a member of the board of directors for IFTA.
R.A. Dick Symms was born into the apple industry and has committed a lifetime to it. When his grandfather and namesake, R.A. Symms, first moved his family to the ranch in 1914, he bought 80 acres, eight of which went into fruit trees of which four trees, three apple and one pear, are still alive. By the time Dick came home from the Air Force, the ranch consisted of about 1,200 acres. Today, under Symms’ leadership, Symms Fruit Ranch, Inc., farms more than 5,000 acres, about 2,000 of which are in apples and pears. In addition to the full-time job Symms has had growing and developing the ranch, he feels it is vital to participate in developing the entire industry as well. Because of that commitment he has served many different positions in several organizations over the years. Symms is not only a pillar in our industry, but also in the community. He is very active in his church and many other local organizations. In today’s environment of sustainable farming, Symms and his family all know that the only way to succeed is to be fair with the land from the start. In addition to this, Symms and his cousin, Jim Mertz, have been working for several years to pass the farm on to the next generation. Dick’s son Dar, his brother Steve’s son Dan, and Jim’s son Jamie have all joined the ranch. They have had the advantage of several years’ tutelage from Dick, Steven, and Jim and are prepared to make a seamless transition.
Phil has been a leader and a valuable resource for all of us in the apple industry. On the farm level, Phil works to improve his operation, without sacrificing quality. He has done so by incorporating many tools. Phil has been a leader in helping introduce new chemicals and pest management tools to our area. The most recent example is in his cooperation during the development and launch of Altacor insecticide. Phil is also a loud voice for the Virginia and U.S. apple industry. Serving roles in multiple local and national fruit organizations, Phil stays current on policies affecting our industry. He is a great communicator to his peers in the industry, which helps get others to speak up when issues affecting the apple industry arise. Since I have known Phil, I have continued to observe an individual that is committed to his operation and his industry. In doing so, Phil appears to be a great steward of the land and operates his business with high ethical standards.