My Observations from My One Acre Piece of Land

Unless your operation is in Maine or south of the Mason Dixon line we all pretty much sound alike. A second thing we all have in common is we are each in the midst of a total rebuild. What you grew two years ago, variety wise, may be less or more valuable today. In most cases the less valuable category seems to be growing. Your consumers have less and less awareness of where or how the apples they consume got to their respective store shelf. Local does still have its niche for some varieties but nationally it is being driven by four to five recognized varieties. Consumers are looking for honey crisp, gala, fuji, red delicious and their old personal favorite from years of shopping locally.

The per capita consumption is stable. Regardless of the introductions of newer varieties the shopper is still consuming about the same volume. This tells me that each year as new varieties emerge we will see it displace a once popular variety. The real trick is to predict which variety will be accepted and which variety will be dropped. To make an inaccurate selection can be fatal. Similarly, to hold onto a variety expecting it to remain in high demand once the consumer has moved on is equally fatal. Orchards today are much more capable of being worked to a different variety than those of the traditional style planting. While this can be done it takes time and delays necessary cash flows.

I have stated that there seems to be a centering of a top five variety list by the produce buyers. This list

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

may alter year to year. Each orchard is limited by its location. Apples grown in the southern portion of Virginia will not be able to compete with varieties grown further north. Similarly, just because the buyers want a fuji it does not mean you can produce it if your growing season is too short. We need to match our selections to our location.

The next area of commonality is the human resource factors. Regardless of where you grow apples you will be looking for some supply of guest workers. The peeked short term need for labor will always make this a reality. Canadian growers are equally dependent on sourcing guest workers. If you wish to grow apples on a commercial level you need to be proficient in sourcing guest workers and then providing good temporary housing. The truth is, there are presently more jobs than workers. If you wish to insure a supply of good help you will need to invest as much effort in this as in growing that perfect apple. Housing seems to be the most limiting factor in today’s market. If you do not have enough labor you will be forced to, at times, abandon some blocks to pick your higher valued crops on time.

Finally, your ability to gather good information will determine your ability to survive. You will never reach a level where you have all the facts. We need to collectively work to support research both for horticulture and market trends.  We need more than ever the ability to influence both our respective State and Federal public policy makers. They need to be kept in touch with all of the changing pressures we are facing. No matter if your farm is in Washington or New York or somewhere in between you need to be supporting efforts to influence sound applied research. Knowledge is power, and it never was truer than today on your farms.

Apples are a global product. They are grown all over the globe. They are being consumed today in more places than ever before. As the saying goes, if your choice is to be an apple farmer you need to decide how you best fit into this industry. We will be facing perhaps the largest domestic crop in decades. Many will have a strong year and for some who are unable to cope with the need to change this will be a very difficult year. We are all a product of a long series of choices. Be certain you are doing all you can to arm yourself with the most current information so you may make those choices.

In closing, I was talking to a grower recently. He offered that he intended to cut back his operation. I asked him if he was down-scaling?  He said no simply making wiser choices. He said there were areas that he felt the best he could do moving forward was break even. He intended to remove those acres and concentrate on the acres he saw profit potential. Often times less is not stepping back but moving ahead.

 

A History of Kast Farms, Inc.

Adelbert Chapman was married in 1883 in Sweden, NY. Less than a year later, he moved his family thirteen miles west to the new farm, he purchased in the town of Gaines in Orleans County. Originally part of the Holland Land Company, Adelbert purchased the farm from members of the Rhodes family who established the farm in 1833. The property of the farm at the corner of Densmore Road and West Transit Church Road was situated in an ideal location. Located approximately seven miles south of Lake Ontario and about one mile south of Ridge Road, the area is perfect for growing a wide variety of crops. The proximity to the lake creates a microclimate beneficial for growing fruit and the variety of soil types allows for multiple vegetable and grain crops. The farm is also located less than two miles north of the Erie Canal, providing an excellent transportation route for produce to market and a source of supplies for the farm when originally purchased.

Like most early farms, the family maintained a variety of livestock and grew produce for themselves primarily, if there was surplus it was sold at market. Chickens, hogs, milking cows, sheep were all in residence. Apples, grapes, corn, cabbage, peas, green beans, tomatoes, hay, wheat, oats and sometimes barley were all grown in abundance on the original homestead. Apple orchards on the original farm purchase included varieties such as Greening, Baldwin and King (Charles or Permian). Portions of these orchards were replanted in the mid 1920’s and again in the late 40’s. Stanley recalls his father blasting out old stumps with Dynamite when he was very young.

When John T. Kast married Adelbert’s fourth daughter Ruth, in 1915, Adelbert built them a smaller house on the main farm approximately 100 yards from the big farmhouse. John & Ruth moved in there in 1916 and John and Adelbert began farming together. Tragedy struck the family in 1920 when Adelbert’s touring car was struck by the express trolley from Rochester and was killed along with three other members of his family (his daughter Fern and her two sons Harold and Ralph). John became the sole farmer on the Chapman farm at this time and he bought the farm from his mother in-law, Evelyn, in 1922. While all seven of John & Ruth’s children helped on the farm, only two stayed on the farm. Their oldest son Stanley and his younger brother Merwin worked together for over 60 years.

Stanley partnered with his father John T. in 1946 and progressively took on more ownership of the farm up until 1959 when he ultimately bought the entire farm from his father.

As Stanley took over the operation in the late 50’s and additionally as David became more involved, the farm began transitioning into a more commercial operation. Primary crops grown at this time were apples, sweet cherries, corn, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, wheat and cabbage. While livestock diminished during this period, a herd of sheep was maintained on the farm until the late 1970’s. David partnered with Stanley in 1966 to run the farm while Stanley’s wife Evelyn managed the books. Together they incorporated the farm in 1975.

In the early 80’s the push to increase acreage for fruit production began. Additional apple orchards were planted along with sour cherries. Processing vegetable acreage also increased at this time. Primary crops were once again apples, field & sweet corn, snap beans, and wheat. These crops became the staple for the farm for a number of years and continue to be so today. David and his wife Kathy took over full ownership of the farm in 1989. Kathy took on the office manager duties while David ran the farm operation. During this time, David also partnered with eight other local farm families to form Lake Ridge Fruit Company, LLC an apple packing and storage facility located in the town of Gaines in Orleans County. David served as president for over 20 years. Lake Ridge Fruit Company, LLC and its subsidiary, Lake Ontario Fruit, Inc. has since grown into one of the largest apple packing and storage operations in the Northeast.

John and Brett partnered with David and Kathy in 2015, both took different paths to the farm initially. Brett has been with the farm since 2001 and spent a year in Texas working on oil and natural gas rigs in 2007. He now serves in the role of Orchard Manager. NY 1 (SnapDragon), NY 2 (RubyFrost), Koru, Gala and Fuji have been the most recent additions to the orchards. John spent over 15 years working in the zoo field. He returned to the farm in May of 2013 after working at the Fort Worth Zoo in Fort Worth, TX for five years. He now serves in the role of Field Crop Manager. Since his return, the farm has expanded crops to include lima beans, soybeans and malting barley.

The Farm has had a long-standing relationship with Cornell University running test plots and new trial varieties of fruits and vegetables. The relationship began with tomato varieties and harvesters initially and continues with apples today. Test varieties of apples include: Honey Crisp, SweeTango, Lyndamac, Pink Lady, Gala, NY 2 (RubyFrost) & five other unnamed Cornell varieties.

Kast Farms was awarded the Conservation Farmer of the Year award in 2009 and received The New York State Century Farm Award in 2016.