Production and Wholesale Marketing of Organic Apples

Apple orchard acreage in North Carolina and in Virginia has declined steadily during the last 20 years due to low wholesale prices and rising land prices. Anthony Owens owns and operates Windy Ridge Farms near Hendersonville. His family has managed conventional apple orchards in this area for many years. A few years ago, Anthony Owens was just as worried as many other local apple growers. The orchard that had been his family’s rock for more than 30 years was looking more and more as if it might tumble out from under him. Gerber Products Co. had closed its Arden plant in 1998 after 40 years, taking with it a good chunk of the demand for local apples. On the world market, meanwhile, fruit prices were continuing their downward spiral. In 2000, Anthony Owens began converting his apple orchards over to organic management. Through hard work and dedication, Anthony has become the largest commercial organic apple grower on the East coast with over 200 acres. Growing apples organically is much more expensive and labor intensive, but organically certified fruit brings a premium price. It also allows Anthony entrance into specialty stores like EarthFare, the Hendersonville and Asheville food co-ops, and large chain health stores like Whole Foods. At first everyone said he could not possibly grow apples organically, but because of his success, Anthony Owens is now respected in the industry and was selected as President of the (BRAG) Blue Ridge Apple Growers in 2010. This is a Western N.C. apple association made up of approximately 150 conventional growers. Marvin Owings, Agriculture Extension Agent in Henderson County has been highly involved in Windy Ridge Farms‘ transition to organic. Using On-Farm Research grant funds from the USDA- SARE program, Owings has worked with over 40 organic crop protection companies. These companies donated products which Mr. Owings and the cooperating fruit growers used to evaluate their effectiveness on five farms during the last ten years. Some of the organic controls were not useful, while others proved to be very effective in controlling insects and diseases. Some of the key factors they found in producing high quality fruit were, proper pest monitoring and the application of crop protection sprays only when the insect and disease threshold was reached. Over the years Marvin Owings has conducted many workshops and demonstration tours that have helped to educate local growers interested in organic apple and vegetable production.

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