Diversification The Key To Surviving A Downsizing Industry For Apple Grower Of The Year
First, a riddle: Of what do we speak when we say, “Nix that!,” but we really mean something positive and optimistic?
Answer: Our Apple Grower Of The Year SM, Greg Nix
The definition of last name says it all, really. Nix— 1. no; 2. not at all; 3. stop.
- But don’t be fooled by what the dictionary says. To truly understand what defines this fifth-generation apple grower, you need to read between the lines:
1. no (no, it’s not just about growing good apples; yes, it’s also about marketing them);
2. not at all (not at all afraid to take some risks);
3. stop (stop often to evaluate those business decisions, but never stop moving forward).
Sometimes a challenge and a success are the same thing, believes Nix. Despite a downsizing industry — whose effects have certainly been felt in his hometown of Hendersonville, NC, Nix has been able to grow and diversify his business into packing, brokerage, and cider production.
“My greatest challenge has been keeping a business growing in changing times,” he says. But, ‘’I’m a risk taker — committed to my business and dedicated to doing a quality job.”
Quality And Market Savvy Go Hand-In-Hand
A quality job may start in the orchard, but it’s first defined by the market. You can’t just grow an exceptional apple: You must grow an exceptional apple that the market demands.
Nix has a keen understanding of this. Being involved not only in the growing aspect but in the packing, marketing, and value-added realm of the apple business gives him a Apple Wedge Packers & Cider, Nix and his wife Lisa pack and sell apples for about 15 other growers. They understand that only the highest, most consistent quality will meet the unique perspective, enabling him to turn market reversals to his advantage.
“There aren’t nearly as many apples grown in the area as there once was. Our industry has gone from one that in the ’70s was oriented toward the fresh market to an industry oriented toward the processing market,” he says.
As such the volume of fresh market fruit decreased so much that it forced many packinghouses out of business. Through forward thinking and market savvy Nix saw an opportunity in this market downturn and steadily moved his operation from a processing focus toward a heavy fresh market focus, which was the key to his eventual growing success.
Next, add in the packing element, where providing a good product is just as important as developing a good relationship. At demands of their buyers.
“I have customers that deal with me every year. 1 try to develop a relationship with them so I know what they want in their product, and I grow a product to fit my markets,” he explains.
As one example, “if my market demands a certain percentage of my fruit to be 23/4 inches and larger, then I try to be an aggressive thinner to grow a large apple.” Nix encourages and expects the growers he packs for to follow this philosophy and uses his orchard as an example of the benefits.
Furthering his leadership in the field, Nix is a believer that technology improves efficiency and the bottom line. Recently, he invested in a new packingline with optical scanners, baggers, and tray fillers in order to more easily select fruit for his different markets.
Nix also has a cider pressing and flash pasteurizing operation and is a major producer of cider in the Southeast. But Nix admits to greater challenges in this area:
“That end of our business has not grown as fast for us as the fresh or packing market has grown. At this time we’re the largest cider producer in the area, but sometimes that’s not enough. We need to be working harder on developing that part of our market.”
Involved And Outspoken
Beyond working toward personal success, Nix works hard to help improve the industry as a whole. He is past president, serves on the board, and is involved in the Grades & Standards and the Market Steering Committees of the North Carolina Apple Growers Association. Nix has also been on the board of the Blue Ridge Apple Growers Association, Southeastern IPM Board, and the zoning committee in his area where he played a large role in getting land zoned for agricultural use. He and his wife have been instrumental in developing an apple educational kit for the North Carolina school districts. Finally, Nix is also recognized for his vision and was recently asked to serve on a county committee entitled “Visions for Henderson County.”
Having vision is probably one of Nix’s greatest strengths. If one thing is clear to him, it’s that it’s not clear why the industry is at a low.
“You tend to think that overproduction is hurting the industry, but I can’t honestly say that to be true,” says Nix. “A lot of people think poor quality fruit or imports are hurting the industry. I don’t think it’s any one thing — it’s a combination of several things. If Model T Fords had been so popular there wouldn’t have been a need for Chevrolet or Chrysler.”
The same goes for the apple industry. As the market changes, consolidations occur, new technologies and varieties emerge, and competition increases, growers — in order to survive and prosper — will have to take a positive approach to addressing these changes. This, in fact, is the essence of an Apple Grower Of The Year SM.
“I’m an optimistic business person and especially an optimistic farmer,” Nix says with a smile. “Next year looks like a good year.”
Developing The Orchard
From just 30 acres in 1979 to a present-day acreage of 150, Greg Nix continues to renovate his high-density orchard, keeping an eye on production and labor efficiency. Varieties such as Gingergold, Gala, Jonagold, Red and Golden Delicious, Rome, Jonathan, Fuji, and Mutsu are trained as central leader and French axe.
“It’s very easy to move back and forth between a central leader and French axe,” says Nix. “My help seems to be able to adapt to that. I like to get my trees 12 to 14 feet tall, and those systems lend themselves to that height.”
In addition to a strong emphasis on pruning and chemical thinning, Nix appreciates the benefits of cutting-edge research. For years he has been working with university and Extension personnel to evaluate new production practices, pesticides, and growth regulators.
Nix is well known in his area for sharing these orchard experiences with fellow growers, and for this leadership was recognized as the North Carolina Apple Grower of the Year in 1996.
Working In A Community
Nix rounds out his many commitments by being actively involved in his local church, participating in local mission outreaches to help those in need. He works with the youth as part of their vacation bible school team and works with various activities for children with youth council, fellowship, and leisure. He’s also active in the local schools’ Heritage Week program which teaches children to appreciate agriculture as well as to take pride in their community.
Planning For Success
According to Greg Nix, developing a business plan is probably the most significant thing any grower can do. Decide where you hope to be in five years, ten years, and so on. Then:
- Work it out on paper. “Fruit growing is a long-term proposition: Whatever you decide to do, if it won’t work on paper, it sure won’t work anywhere else.”
- Be consistent. “If you did it today, do it tomorrow, but always have an alternative plan to back you up.” Which leads to
- Be willing to change “Because it’s an ever-changing market.”