After being asked by key apple processors to encourage growers to produce organic fruit, the Michigan Apple Committee sponsored a study to analyze the organic apple market, pricing and acreage trends, and costs of production.
Denise Yockey of the Apple Committee said that the objective of the study was to provide Michigan growers with updated information about organic apple production. The Apple Committee received a Julian-Stille value-added grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture for $50,000 to conduct the study.
In recent years, the Apple Committee heard repeatedly from both processors and fresh-market retailers that they wanted to source organic fruit locally, but could not find enough supply.
Because of a short supply of organic processed apples grown in the Midwest, processors have had to ship fruit thousands of miles from the Pacific Northwest. Not only are the transportation costs high and ever climbing, but the extra trucking adds to their carbon footprint.
"They kept asking us, 'Can't you see if growers in Michigan might try organic production?'" she said. "For years, Michigan tree fruit growers have been told that they can't grow organic primarily because of rains, humidity, and high disease and pest pressures. That's been the sacred cow, that we can't grow organic. We wanted to see if we could tip the sacred cow over."
Moreover, she pointed out that great strides have been made in recent years in integrated pest management, and more new tools and materials than ever are now registered for organic fruit production.
"We're not advocating that growers all move toward organic," Yockey emphasized, adding that there are financial risks. Each grower must consider his or her own situation in terms of acreage, region, climate, varieties, and such.
"We just wanted to get all the data out there so growers can make informed decisions."