Despite the boom of organic fruits and vegetables and everything else, shippers in some regions simply cannot convince Mother Nature to change her ways and allow them to cash in.
Eastern apple growers know it all too well.
“It’s very different in the Northeast,” said Mark Nicholson, executive vice president of Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, N.Y. “As a producer, we haven’t gone down that path.”
However, that does not mean Red Jacket is not tapping into high organic demand, Nicholson said. In 2008, the company became certified as an organic packaging facility. It packs organic fruit grown by a New York producer, he said.
The bulk of the product is for processing, Nicholson said, but some winds up in the fresh market.
Peter Forrence, vice president of Forrence Orchards Inc., Peru, N.Y., agreed with everything his fellow growers say about the difficulty of growing organic apples on the East Coast.
That does not mean he has written off the category, though.
“Believe it or not, we have an ongoing effort to grow macs organically, and we’re finding it marginally successful,” he said.
For about the third year, Forrence Orchards is experimenting with one block of organic mcintoshes, Forrence said. Production has not been high enough to come out with an organic product line yet, but the company has not given up hope.
As for which variety to try in the block, that was a no-brainer, he said.
“Macs are our bread and butter,” Forrence said. “We’re starting with the variety we know best.”
About 85% of the apples shipped by Forrence Orchards are mcintoshes, a percentage that hasn’t changed much, if at all, since Forrence joined the business 15 years ago.
Organic can work in the Northeast, said John Rice, president of Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa. But expect to lower your expectations.
“There are some people who are very successful in having a small program going, but the wholesale market demands a higher level of quality,” he said. “Most of the organic fruit in the market comes from desert climates.”
Other grower-shippers in the Northeast agreed with the assessment of the challenges would-be organic apple growers in the region face.
“It’s very difficult in our area because of the amount of rain we get,” said John Teeple of Teeple Farms Inc., Wolcott, N.Y.
Still, Teeple said, if researchers at Cornell University could develop an apple variety less susceptible to mildew and other rain-related problems, “it could be something to look at.”
Peter Gregg, spokesman for the Fishers-based New York Apple Association, said he hasn’t heard much about shippers growing organic apples themselves or sourcing them from others.
“We really don’t have much of an organic market at all,” he said. “They’re very difficult to grow.”