Our Industry is a fascinating one. It’s made up of strong individual grower operations, ranging in size from mom and pop to enormous. You’re direct competitors for business, yet function together to deliver a high-quality and abundant supply of fruit to our nation, and to the world.
As with any industry, individual growers make decisions based on what’s best for profit and both the short and long term success of their operations. It just makes sense.
But at the same time, the impact of an individual operation’s decisions and actions can ripple far beyond the borders of its orchards.
And nowhere is that more clear than in apples.
We hope this month’s cover story on the current and future state of production among U.S. apple growers — and how and where we’re going to sell all of these apples — will open a dialogue. To be clear, our intent is not to pit East vs. West. While Washington’s crops have ballooned the most in recent years, the capability to expand production of high-quality fruit in increasing numbers of new varieties is now in the hands of just about any grower in the country.
At this time last year, our cover story featured Cornell University’s Terence Robinson and his work to encourage the broader acceptance of high-density tall spindle plantings. For an individual grower looking to increase high-quality production and gain a good return on investment for new plantings, the numbers look pretty attractive. But at least one reader expressed concern about the potential of adding more production to the marketplace:
“The spindle tree system is cost intensive; the product from these trees will be of the same quality, but a lot more production in a lot less space. Question: will there be a market for all the apples that can and may well be produced in greater yield numbers by this method? In order for an apple grower to make money, someone in some region of the country needs to suffer a loss. The consumer today will pay only so much for a bag of apples.”
Domestic apple consumption has edged up slightly in recent years, but a big leap in the near future seems unlikely. Logically, the industry is looking outside the U.S. at some very attractive international markets. But as the West Coast port shutdown and Russia’s closed borders showed just this year, counting on global markets to continually take more and more product each year is less than a sure thing.
Clearly marketing needs to be a significant part of the solution.
Creative programs like the new FNV promotional effort supported by the Produce Marketing Association (read more about that in Dave Eddy’s April Editorial) are a step in the right direction. Maybe a big step. But even if FNV does succeed, it will be a longer-term win for fruit growers.
In the short to mid term, though, there are probably going to be some very big crops to move, hopefully at the profit levels individual growers need to survive and thrive.
Grow more or grow less? Focus on building markets here or abroad? It’s unlikely we’ll all agree on the answers to these questions, but we should at least be having the discussion.
We want to hear your opinion in the comments here.