New Crop in 2020 But is There Anything Else New?

There is a famous saying, “If you do the same thing over and over-looking for a better end, why should you expect any new outcome?”

Since early America we have been growing apples in New York State. Always received as a favorite fruit by the people consuming them. Primary usage has been fresh eating out of hand, cider or baking of desserts. Later we introduced apple sauce to the mix. Near the end of the last century we tried to link apples with health. In my mind only limited market success. Nothing negative but not really a shot in the arm for movement.

Fast forward to 2020. We have asparagus and strawberries every day of the year. Fruits and vegetables no longer have seasons associated with them. Today’s commodities are expected to be on the consumers shopping lists year-round. What are we offering new in 2020 other than a new club variety to be used as it was 300 years ago? Let’s be honest here and admit we are in a bit of a rut.

I took the time to drive around the area recently. I saw incredible innovations in horticulture skills and

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

applications. I witnessed an operation inside a major apple packing plant that was combining apples with potatoes, cucumbers, onions and carrots. This was to move 20 pounds of produce to national distribution. The combination of including apples with other commodities was moving product. It was keeping apples in the daily usage. It was not a stand-alone product, but it was moving product!

I think we have become victims of tradition. Ford Motor began making one car model. Henry quickly observed he needed to make different models, colors and even trucks. We live in a time when anything NEW has a noticeably short shelf life. What I am suggesting is we have a time proven product but a very stale delivery. For example, is the target of our promotions the housewife alone? True she has held most of this responsibility overtime. Ask yourself, how does an item get on her list? Have we as an industry offered enough fresh stimulus to rate being on this critical list?

I personally think we have failed miserably for years to influence the buying power of children. Disney certainly saw the wisdom of making entertainment designed for children. They In turn influenced the adults to become consumers. Children have special needs. They have loose or missing teeth! They have braces that make eating a challenge. Do we ignore these children during this critical time or search new ways to deliver our product to them in a form they can enjoy? I think slicing has been a success here. Question here is, have we done all we could to develop this market?

Open your imagination again. Peanuts grown in the south found a great partner in the north in grapes. Introducing the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hot dogs and french fries, macaroni and cheese and so on. My question is what product are we searching for and willing to promote to become our “peanut butter and jelly sandwich?’

Apples are a great product. However, I think we need to reintroduce the product to a new consumer. Every promotion will not be a winner. I think the challenge for the apple industry is for the marketing and sales departments to keep up with the horticultural advancements I witnessed in the modern orchard. We can not only improve the orchards. Our job is not completed until our product is in demand on a daily basis. Yes, it is a challenge, but as farmers I think we do our absolute best when faced with challenges.

Send me your ideas for the new apple “peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

2020 year of Opportunity and New Directions

You did not select being a fruit farmer because of the constant repetition in the work. Farming is, at times, too unpredictable but it certainly stretches your personal skills to the max. Let’s take a moment and try to for see what might be lying in wait for us in the next year.

To begin, it will be the first year under the new farm worker bill. Every farm will be attempting to maximize the work schedules and fall close to or slightly above the new overtime limits of 60 hours. I am not too nervous over this as I see it having some side benefits as it forces employers to place higher emphasis on the work tasks assigned. We will each learn to meet this challenge. Honestly I see this as a challenge but need not be one that will drastically put farms in grave risks.

The next needed fresh look or perhaps opportunity will for each farm to stop and reassess the variety

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

break down in their portfolios. As an industry we have always seen new varieties enter and in time push aside older ones. The only difference today it that this evolution seems to now come at a faster pace. The consumer will have the final verdict as to what they will place in their cart. Our farms will forever, moving forward, be driven by this shopping cart choice. Take the time to ask, observe and then act to make certain you are investing those new 60 hour work weeks in the correct spot.

Thirdly we need to understand that the marketing order will be up for certification in 2 years. This offers a great opportunity to review past directions and take a fresh look at how this order can be structured to best serve the present needs of your farm. I strongly encourage you to maintain the order. That being said I just as strongly need you to ask yourself how you want the order to be administered to best help you bring improved financial returns to your farm. If you see the order as an expense than I think you have failed to give the order the direction it deserves to be an asset. Orders only work when they have the support and creative inputs to be successful.

I think fruit production in the future will be different. That is good. We began by agreeing we are not the type of worker who can survive 52 weeks a year doing the same task. We are lucky living here in the north. Once a year it forces us to take a step back due to weather to review what we are doing. Spring will be knocking on your door too soon. Take Mother Nature’s cue and review before you plunge into perhaps outdated tasks. The future is yours to design.

Perception verses Reality

Recently I was asked to appear on a three-person panel to discuss modern agriculture in a heavily agriculture-based area. The people in attendance were from all walks of the community. It was not my typical audience where I traditionally am speaking to my peers. I am not certain which side learned more that day? The other two people on my side of the panel did an excellent job of speaking to the audience. They were neither too technical not so simplistic to serve no real message.  The underlying message that I took from this day was that here in the heart of agriculture, land not inner city, we were totally a mystery to these interested people.

I suppose I expected a greater appreciation of agriculture here in farm land. I did not expect those who have lived their entire life with concrete verses soil under their feet to appreciate our challenges. The group was attentive but almost in shock when hearing the individual financial, compliance and marketing challenges that farms were up against. In the end, I got the feeling they saw us as a group who had just informed them that Santa Claus was a myth. They wanted the safety of knowing their food, which was grown just down the road, was safe and CHEAP. One man came up to me at the end and stated that he really did not care about our challenges. He had more than enough of his own. He wanted his food “perfect and cheaper.”

I personally dislike when people throw statistics at me to win their point. It is fair to state that today

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Americans have very little knowledge of 2018 agriculture. They all have busy days and too many distractions to really care if we are being profitable or over legislated. What they see is that apples in the retail aisle are priced in dollars per pound not pennies. They only see perfect cosmetic fruit and must assume this is simply how Mother Nature delivers it to us. Since they are all consumers they feel they have the right to address an opinion on how we farm regardless if it has any reality to their desires. For example, they wish us to deliver this cosmetically perfect fruit to them totally organic and pesticide free. They also want us to do this with the minimum use of the ten fingers we seem to feel are critical to this delivery. Life should be so simple.

I personally had hopes that the millennials would bring a new awareness to the science of modern agriculture. I had hoped that they would not be so easily swayed when the topics of GMOs and the true safety of all our food supplies grown within our borders.  This does not seem to be the reality. This group wants more organic and absolutely zero GMOs. They do not wish to understand how modern agriculture techniques can reduce pesticide and fertilizer usage. They do not want to know why we need to import our labor when we have US citizens on unemployment. In short, we seem to be a group that wishes to ignore progress and continue to farm as we have for centuries. Here their “perception is reality.”

I take from this experience that we are even more in need of consumer education. Since we are all consumers we should share a common respect for the process of producing that food supply. I was wrong to assume that there was a stark difference between the people living in a rural setting verses an urban one. In fact, people living in the rural see first-hand the expensive machines going by their homes that in many instances are worth more than their homes. Hard to feel compassion for those who can afford such machines.

I feel that marketing and new opportunities to address the public need to address this reality. We each fear what we do not understand. No one likes the first day of school or the first day on a new job. We each find ways to comfort ourselves as to what is happening outside of our world. We need to invest in finding ways to make their reality based upon truth more so than perception. We need to articulate our story and not allow all the messaging to flow from uninformed sources. We live in a world that if it appears on your phone it must be true. If we wish to be understood, we must be willing to invest in the message.