We Need to Step Back and Find New Uses for the Apple

Earlier this year I challenged each of you to come up with a new use for the apple. My example was what positives flowed from the introduction of taking raw peanuts and creating peanut butter? This then merged with jelly to yield an American classic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We still are looking for that new mix for our consumers.

If we step back even more and begin to unpeel the onion so to speak, I think we are already slow to invest in apple food research. We have a nutritional crisis on our current doorsteps. US citizens are no longer dying from starvation, but they are dying from obesity. Today 1 in 3 young Americans are too fat to enter the armed services. Since the 60’s obesity has tripled to now be 42% of our population.  No surprise this has led to increased health care costs. There is a reason most health insurance companies will pay for your health club membership.

Food companies see this and are investing huge sums in food research. Traditional protein sources have come from our animal production. The heavy meats and milk products today are destroying our health. We need to invest in ways to have consumers enjoy the taste of their meat products but from plant-based crops. Burger King has the Impossible Whopper now in their menu. They are not alone. Many other companies are investing in this shift away from the dominance of animal-based foods.

People have long predicted that the world population would grow faster than our ability to produce enough calories. What has happened in fact is due to our creativity on the farms we are producing more food than the world is consuming. This has kept food priced below where it should be. Result, we are eating too much because of price and taste.

China will soon be facing a huge food challenge. Due to improved earning capacity the Chinese have gone away from basic food dependence such as rice to more meat based. The demand for this meat-based food simply will not be available for this growing population. This will cause both domestic and international stress.

To try to draw this to a conclusion. We still must feed the growing world/US population in the future. Meat based food production is taking too much of the available acreage. We must learn to reduce the percentage of calories we consume from this group. It will never go away. Soy milk can replace some of the need for dairy based milk for example. We grow apples. We can grow given demand more than we currently do. We need to be investing in food research to use the apple in newer ways. Who would have thought that you could pour a glass of milk from almonds?

In short, we need to make certain our apples are being used even more in the future. If we combine all sales of farmer’s markets, CSA, pick your own, roadside markets, farm to school and direct sale to restaurants from our farms it represents less than 1% of the food we produce in this country. Commercial agriculture is a necessity to feed this planet.

The hope that local and organic will increase consumption has not become a reality. Only 2% of all farm commodities are grown organically. Less than 1% of our acreage is devoted to this usage. To win the health and obesity issues that are on our table we need to encourage new consumption trends. I suggest we make certain apples are in the heart of this revolution.

If you are interested in this topic, I suggest you read Resetting the Table by Robert Paarlberg.

How Do You Measure the True Cost of Your Labor?

If you had an employee who dropped 66% of your apples you would no doubt have serious concerns as to his value. In baseball a player who fails to get a hit just 66% of the time would be destined for Cooperstown. Employee grading then has a very task-oriented factor to it.

There is little doubt that the cost of our labor will creep up on an annual basis. If the productivity of that same employee remains constant than we are paying more each year and getting less in return. It must be the responsibility of the employer to research and find improved techniques for that employee to return more production per hour. This may seem obvious, but have we really challenged our researchers enough to return to us this needed improvement in productivity?

In fruit production we have made great strides in this. Dwarf trees, sleds for harvest, improved automation in our packing houses just to site three. We cannot stop searching for new techniques.

In the year 2000 I was asked to name one improvement that forever changed agriculture. Some of the early answers were electrical power on the farms and improved diesel equipment. I selected the hydraulic cylinder. This allowed an employee to lift not pounds but tons with tremendous simplicity. Forklifts completely altered how we handled our products. If we are to progress, we must find the next “hydraulic cylinder.”

The New York State Horticulture Society is asking for a research request this year of $750,000. Once again, we need to discover new procedures in the growing of our apples. Applied cultural research. At the same time, we need to devote research dollars to improving the tasks we wish our employees to handle. We need to find that new “hydraulic cylinder.”

I hope you will join us in supporting this increase in research funding. I am certain those new procedures are right in front of us. We simply must have the wisdom to see and implement them. As new demands are placed upon our farms, we must be willing to embrace new ways to do the same task. We can meet the challenges so long as we seek that better mouse trap! Change is a good thing. I am excited to uncover fruit production in the not-so-distant future.

Northwest Winter Fruit Seminar Series

https://ag.umass.edu/fruit/news-events/new-england-winter-fruit-seminar-serie16

Northeast Winter Fruit
Seminar Series
(NYSDEC Recertification Credits Available)
Due to the current COVID 19 situation, we will not be able to hold face-to-face meetings for the foreseeable future. However, in an effort to provide fruit growers in the New England region (and beyond) the same quality educational opportunities we have in the past, fruit Extension Educators throughout the region joined forces in a collaborative effort to develop a winter series of online educational programming.
ENYCHP specialists are working closely with this group to make NYSDEC credits available for a number of these meetings.
Upcoming Talks in February and March:
Tuesday, February 9, 2021 – 11:45-1:30PM (1 DEC Credit)
Speakers: Dr. Terry Bradshaw (University of Vermont), Jessica Foster (University of Vermont), Dr. Renae Moran (University of Maine), and Elizabeth Garofalo (University of Massachusetts)
Tuesday, February 16, 2021 – 11:45-1:30PM (1 DEC Credit)
Speakers: Dr. Jaime Piñero (University of Massachusetts)
Wednesday, March 3, 2021 – 11:45-1:30PM (1 DEC Credit)
Speakers: Dr. Suzanne Blatt (Ag Canada Kentville Research Station)
Wednesday, March 10, 2021 – 11:45-1:30PM (1.25 DEC Credits)
Speakers: Dr. Jaime Piñero, (University of Massachusetts) and Glen Koehler (University of Maine Extension)
Wednesday, March 17, 2021 – 11:45-1:30PM (1.25 DEC Credits)
Speakers: Dr. Renae Moran, (University of Maine) and Glen Koehler (University of Maine Extension)
Tuesday, March 23, 2021 – 11:45-1:30PM (1.25 DEC Credits)
Speakers: Dr. Terence Bradshaw (University of Vermont)
Tuesday, March 30, 2021 – 11:45-1:30PM (1.25 DEC Credits)
Speaker: Dan Olmstead (NYS IPM Program)
To receive NYSDEC credits, New York growers must:
1. Register at the above links by no later than the Friday prior to the meeting date. Participants seeking credits must enter their applicator ID # at registration. Each license holder must register separately and participate on their own device to earn credits.
2. Email, text, fax, or mail a photocopy of their applicator ID to Mike Basedow no later than the Monday prior to the meeting date.
3. Log on to the meeting at 11:45 for a virtual roll call.
4. Attend the entire meeting.
5. Respond to all poll questions that will occasionally be asked.
This series is presented by: Ms. Elizabeth Garofalo, Mr. Jon Clements, Extension Educators, University of Massachusetts Extension Fruit Program; Dr. Terence Bradshaw, Assistant Professor, University of Vermont; Mr. Jeremy Delisle, Ms. Olivia Saunders, Field Specialists, UNH Cooperative Extension, Fruit and Vegetable Team and George Hamilton, Food & Agriculture Field Specialist, UNH Cooperative Extension, Hillsborough County; Dr. Renae Moran, Professor of Pomology and Mr. Glen Koehler, Associate Scientist Maine Food and Agriculture Center, University of Maine; Ms. Heather Faubert, Research Associate, University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension; Ms. Mary Concklin Visiting Extension Educator, IPM Program Coordinator, University of Connecticut.

New Season Ahead.  Are You Ready for What Lies Ahead?

Is it just me or is there a feeling of uncertainty about this crop? I think many growers are coming to the reality that too much of their acreage is no longer in peak demand. The shelves are seeing new names that have now so slowly replaced long standing favorites. While the apple shelf space is still impressive it cannot hold all varieties.

A few years ago, the Eastern crop had a record low crop due to poor weather. The apple shelves did not go bear. Fruit from outside the traditional reach found its way to our markets to fill this gap. Life has never been the same. New supple ties were made and new varieties became available to our consumers. We did not lose our apple consumer they simply had a new list to select from.

We need to accept that our consumer is not the consumer of our parents. That consumer was happy

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

to drive a Ford or Chevy. Today’s consumer wants to select from all the types of cars of the world. Our apple consumer is no different. Our challenge is to accept this reality and wisely move forward. To hold onto older varieties is similar to trying to sell yesterday’s newspaper.

So how do we meet this shift? It may sound like a broken record, but we must continue to invest in research. We need to invest in production and marketing research. We may know how to design the modern orchard but what good is it if we have the wrong variety. I believe we need to make the effort to partner with our State and Federal policy makers to invest in much needed research.

We all know the struggles we are currently having with shifts in public policy on farm labor. We cannot allow this debate to dampen our efforts to increase funding for research. If our labor is to cost us more we certainly need to be harvesting the most desirable crop.

I am confident that in many ways this year will see a huge shift in our orchards. We cannot take the attitude that we will grow what we want despite the consumer shift. We truly do farm today from the shopping cart back to the farm. Embrace change but first make every effort to research that change.

Will We Ever Reach the Ultimate Success for our Commodity?

Today you can fly from St. Louis to LA in 4 hours. Not so long ago it took 5 months by covered wagon to make this same trip, under ideal conditions. If you had problems, Denver became your new home. Your wagon could cover, on a good day, 20 miles. It carried no more than the capacity of a modern pick-up truck. My point is obvious, I hope. Once you move ahead you never really go back. What will it be like in 50 years to grow apples in New York State? What I know for certain is that it will be very different.

I used to operate a fruit farm. I was fourth generation. At that time, we packed most of our own fruit. It was almost a daily ritual that my Father would come into the packing house to visit. The first place he always went was to the cull bin. I knew the second place with certainty! He would come to question my sanity. He would tell me that I was discarding better apples than he ever raised? What was wrong with my management skills? My Father is gone today but I never really was certain that he could accept the grading standards of those days. The truth is, each year we produce a higher quality product. It has better condition and eating ability. Our consumers have grown to see this “perfection” as the new norm.

Everything in 2018 is better than it was a few years before. ‘New” is a short-lasting piece of time.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

Change is the norm in everything, not just in agriculture. We must be willing to change with the times. Markets, varieties, customer preferences last as long as the new cell phone models. To accept this, we need to be willing to constantly self-examine all aspects of our business. People will always be looking for someone else to grow their food. Gone forever are the days of populations that were self-sufficient in this task. Not so long ago the world population had more people living in urban settings than rural. In short, this means people are looking for someone else to provide the food and fiber they need to survive.

To meet this reality, we must continue to invest in all forms of research. We need to be willing to accept that change is the new norm. To resist or ignore this is a path to ruin. This means we must take long objective looks at how we both grow and market our crops. Referring back to my Father visiting my packing house, he was not comfortable with how rapidly the industry was evolving. His way of doing business had changed and was never coming back.

I have just concluded my 15th year of helping a modern fruit farm with harvest. I am very grateful for this opportunity to experience first-hand the new reality in fruit production.  I think it is important if I am to be credible in representing our industry that I get my boots dirty on the ground. If I did not, I would be like my Father visiting the cull bin years ago. People will always need fruit. It is our challenge to understand their needs and then surpass their expectations. Those that are successful in the future will always be ten steps ahead of the pack. Embrace the challenge and support those that are willing to invest in ways to improve today. We truly are a work in progress.

Another Season Is Here Already

By the time you read this, assuming it does not get put on your future read pile, I will be back assisting in another harvest. I find these periods of helping with harvest vital to my staying in touch with you.  Yes, I was fifth generation farm family. The truth is I suspect that no matter what your craft, if you are more than 10 years removed from active duty your true perspective is flawed.  Much is the same as when I farmed but much is new.

I am a believer that if you wish to truly judge a topic it is best to experience it, if possible. A good example might be in education. If a teacher has not taught a classroom in over 10 years, I question if they understand all the baggage each child brings to class. Similarly, if a principal judges his faculty on his experiences of years teaching in the past I question his true perspective. My years of farming are a base, but I need to take off my dress shoes and lace up the work boots, in my opinion, to truly see the challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to attempt to stay current.

Paul Baker,
Executive Director
NYSHS

If all that I have stated to this point makes sense to you than I ask you a second question. How can our elected officials make sound decisions on your behalf? They can if they have access to people who wear those work boots and make the effort to enlighten them. If the “boots on the ground” crowd decides to stay away that void is quickly filled by those who have zero feedback from the farms. In the last few years I have been very encouraged to see new faces (many times with familiar last names) stepping up to make the effort to discuss the issues when called upon. There is no substitute for living the realities of agriculture 2018.

The last view point I wish to make is that of your consumer. We need to continue to inform and share our farming experiences with our consumers. Each year most of our consumers have no contact with you, the producer. They are not your enemy but they clearly have no sense of reality of your pressures.  On a daily basis I see farm vehicles drive by my home that exceed the net value of the homes they are passing. Is it any wonder the average consumer is left with the initial opinion that the farmer is doing quite well. The second startling reality that most of the American consumers has no idea how small a percentage of the Farm Bill goes to serving farms.  They assume their tax dollars are helping each of you at a very high cost to their taxes.

In closing, I am making the case that each of us must make the time to discuss our issues. We also must make certain we are current on our opinions. I find today a very big question that is floated to me is on trade. Make certain you research your answers before sharing one. As I have already stated, the halls of Congress are filled with people who have never stepped one foot on a farm.  Each year changes the narrative. It is essential we each keep informed and then be willing to share our opinions for the advancement of all.

When Will We Stop Being A Work In Process?

I am going to ask you a simple question. You may GOOGLE this later to fact check my answer. What do the following companies all have in common? Dell, GM, Ford, Kodak, Block Buster, Micro Soft, Motorola, Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us, Sony, Yahoo, Xerox, Border Books, Blackberry, Polaroid and of course the home of the Twinkie, Hostess? They are examples of once strong companies that felt they owned the MARKET and did not need to invest in research. I might even be so bold to include the Washington apple industry. I can recall a few short years ago when Washington felt the entire world would always crave a red or yellow delicious apple. They scoffed at eastern growers for having such a vast line of varieties. I need not tell you, orchards in Washington State bear little resemblance to life in the not so distant past.

At the close of WW11 farms could actually conduct business with the attitude, ‘if we grow what we want the markets will consume it’. Business ran from the plow to the consumer. Today all is changed. Informed agriculture realizes that the flow is from the shopping cart back to the plow. Today we are many generations removed from an American society that nearly every family could lay a connection to some farm roots. The modern consumer craves for the taste of the produce from the past. The rise of grown local and the home grown labels that are today common. They want flavor and safety in knowing the produce they are consuming is safe. What they do not understand they shy away from. (GMOs for example.)

To meet this trend we must not be an industry from the above list. We must find ways to produce for the modern consumer. She is as diverse as the many cars on the road. Henry Ford was certain we all would be happy to drive ‘black’ cars. GM and Ford had to almost declare bankruptcy before they were willing to make much improved, longer lasting more fuel efficient cars.

The New York industry to its credit has been re-inventing itself. We have much more to accomplish. Not only must we be willing to offer newer, crisper better flavors to our consumers. They want us to do so with safer chemicals to both the end users and the environment. To accomplish this we need to invest in research. Not too long ago the industry voted to double its self-assessment for applied research. This spurred a respect for our willingness to change. The NYS Senate when presented with our story matched our contribution. Great news. The issue is are we doing enough and fast enough?

There are two major categories for research. Private and publically funded. Private is of course important but it carries with it the baggage of being both biased and self-serving. I am not certain if the general public always trusts BIG BUSINESS to make all of these decisions.  Publically funded research may be the way to go to meet the needs of a hungry industry for knowledge and in keeping the consumer’s confidence.

As a grower I tended to make my farming decisions heavily from Extension or University studies. I felt they offered a much more objective opinion.  We must find ways to embrace knowledge from all sides. The challenge is how to finance this? I think we are on the correct path. We need to continue to be willing to invest our own funds from our own pockets.  As I have indicated we have a new partner. That consumer who no longer has a distant agriculture tie to her food supply, I think is willing to see public funds to drive this innovation. The gains we make are not for the sole benefit of the few farmers but all consumers. You may grow apples but your family consumes food from the entire food supply.

So the correct reply to my title is I hope we never feel so complacent that we resist innovation. As farmers we claim to be GROWERS. We must always strive for new ways to be better growers. Investing in research is essential to our continued survival.