Processed market gives grower flexibility
Chip Bailey has sent Cameo and Gala apples to the processor, after first picking for the fresh market.
A stable apple processing market translates into stable production of processed apples, says a central New York State orchardist.
"I'm very glad to have a stable processing market because it helps to maximize the value of the fruit at each level, with the most value going to fresh, then processed, then juice," said Charles "Chip" Bailey of Williamson, New York.
While industry stability can be positive, Bailey is concerned that the market for processed apples is not growing. Innovations in packaging and new products are needed to keep the processed market from declining.
1,000 bushels per acre
The processed market has given Bailey, who grows primarily for the fresh market, flexibility in determining what he sends to fresh market outlets. In some years, Bailey says that he has sent Gala, Cameo, and Empire apples to the processor after picking first for the fresh wholesale market.
Processed apple orchards, to be profitable, need to produce around 1,000 bushels per acre, he noted. One Idared block usually averages 1,200 bushels per acre, but he has picked as high as 1,600 bushels per acre in some blocks.
"The ideal processing tree is one that's highly productive, disease resistant, and can be grown on semidwarfing rootstock to yield 2,000 bushels per acre," he said.
He explained that the processor wants a 2.5-inch apple. Color is not an issue, nor external skin blemishes, but the internal pests must be taken care of. "They want them round and sound."
Growers are paid for four categories of processed apples, which range from the lowest priced apples at $7.25 per hundredweight (equivalent to $145 per ton) to the highest at $9.00 per hundredweight ($180 per ton). Prices are dependent on variety and the grade given to the load after inspection. Processor standards require that fruit be graded higher than a U.S. No. 1.
Cortland and Rhode Island Greening are examples of varieties that don't store well and fall in the $7.25 price category. Idareds are considered one of the premium processed varieties, claiming the highest price category. Fruit culled for internal quality and size receive about half the price of the lowest price category.
"With processing, you have to almost farm from the tractor seat," Bailey said, adding that annual pruning and pest management are necessary. "You need to do all the things that make a good, sound apple suitable for processing."
But growers must be mindful of inputs and costs when growing fruit for processing. Inputs include hand labor for pruning and picking, but there is little thinning and tree training done. Growers save on inputs by eliminating much of the costs associated with growing large and highly colored fruit.
"You just have to worry about bushels per acre and lowering your costs-not color, size, and canopy shape," he stressed.
Bailey recently planted a small trial block, in partnership with Mott's, to test different processing varieties and examine the economics of planting new blocks. Tree spacing in the block is 5 by 14 feet on Nic 29 rootstock, a Belgium clone of Malling 9 that gives a more vigorous tree.
Most processed plantings today are on semidwarfing rootstock, he noted. Varieties depend on what the processor wants and what fits in the grower's harvest schedule.