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
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 Take Mother Nature’s cue and review before you plunge into perhaps outdated tasks.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.
Everyone who is managing a commercial apple orchard in New York State is concerned with whether they will have enough labor to harvest the new crop. I operated my family farm for over 30 years. Too often I was guilty of the concepts I will challenge you with. I know that what I am suggesting is not easy, but it may be the difference between you just surviving and seeing a profit.
To begin let me pose a question to you. Are you managing orchards that are productive but not profitable? Have the markets shifted away from these blocks? Will these blocks struggle to break even? If this is the case than you need to ask yourself why you are continuing to operate these blocks. Bushels alone do not guarantee profit. If those bushels have to be sold at a discount to move them are they doing you any good? Have newer strains found shelf space in their place? Am I having to house extra men to harvest these apples? Am I mowing, fertilizing, spraying and pruning these blocks often times more in an effort to meet color requirements? More than 100 apple varieties are grown commercially in the United States. Fifteen of those varieties represent 90% of the production.
Most of agriculture’s history enjoyed the fact that if you were able to grow a crop you could find a use for it. Distribution systems were such that you could find a “profitable” utilization for your efforts. In essence, if you grew it there would be a consumer waiting for it. Those days are gone here and globally. Today we need to farm from the shopping cart to our farm gate. They decide if they want your product. They have more choices than demand for each product. They are no longer in a consumer position to accept marginal quality.
Recently it was announced that the Gala variety has replaced the Red Delicious (dates back to 1870) as the most popular variety. Long standing varieties such as the Macintosh, that was discovered in 1811, and the Cortland, that was discovered around 1900, are understandably under great consumer challenge. Newer varieties have arrived. Consumers have diversity today in the market place. As they review and cast their vote at the checkout counters we need to take notice. They are sending us clear messages as to what they prefer. If we ignore this then we should not be surprised when our sales for older varieties decline.
I am not suggesting that any one variety is no longer profitable. I am asking each of you to evaluate your particular marketing program and react to those trends. At one time in my farm history I grew profitably over 100 acres of pears. The markets I was associated with made this a profitable venture. In the last years I was managing my farm it all changed. I was investing in removal of pears in favor of other newer apple varieties. What was once a sound program had shifted due to consumer buying trends. As I alluded to earlier, I was guilty of holding on too long as well.
In conclusion, before you expand your housing take a good look at what you are needing to harvest. If you are gearing up to harvest crops that are productive but not profitable you need to step back. We all need to shift to meet consumer demands. The entire globe is eating better. Consumers everywhere have a higher income that allows them to select what they will eat. Be certain you are striving to match those trends.