New York growers join the club
New York Apple Growers sets out the growing and marketing plan.
New York 1 is a Honeycrisp offspring without many of its flaws, and New York growers indicate they want to plant it.
In announcing its formation last August, NYAG LLC, also known as New York Apple Growers, set out a game plan for a managed variety “club” made up of New York growers and has followed it closely so far.
It took longer than expected to work out the contractual agreement with the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization, but by May, the organization was on target.
Last winter, board chair Roger Lamont, a western New York grower from Albion, and board vice chair Jeff Crist, an eastern New York grower from Walden in the Hudson River Valley, along with other board members, made the rounds of winter horticulture meetings to describe the new organization to growers and solicit their membership.
They expanded the board of directors from the original five (Lamont, Crist, Walt Blackler from Lafayette in central New York, Robert Norris of Savannah in western New York’s Wayne County, and Mason Forrence of Peru in northern New York) to include James Bittner, Appleton; Chuck Mead, Tivoli; Adam Sullivan, Peru; Joe Porpiglia, New Paltz; and J.D. Fowler, Wolcott.
They surveyed all New York growers to find their interest in growing the two new varieties Cornell planned to release. “There have been positive responses from 170 growers, including 70 grower/direct marketers,” Lamont said. “These growers expressed a desire to plant about 1,000 acres of the New York 1 and New York 2 cultivars.”
Crist said there was more grower interest in New York 1 than in New York 2.
In May, they began recontacting growers who showed interest to get them to sign the required legal documents needed for membership. “NYAG is contracting with grower members to manage the distribution of the acreage and ultimately the packing and marketing of the fruit,” Crist said. “NYAG will be sublicensing packing houses and marketers in order to offer premium returns to growers for the sale of this premium fruit.”
Crist estimated that half to three-fourths of NYAG’s funds will be spent on marketing, and that these funds will come from licensing fees, tree royalties, and fruit royalties.
In talks last winter, Crist estimated that the fee schedule would include a start-up membership equity charge of from $100 to $500 an acre, a marketing fee of $750 to $1,000 per acre starting in 2011, tree royalties of $1 to $1.50 per tree at planting, and a fruit royalty of $1.50 to $3 per case packed. The final figures have since been fixed, but the exact numbers are not being publicized.
Crist also said that the sign-up program started in May may be the only opportunity growers have to join in. If the target acreage is reached, the window of opportunity will be closed, he said. If it is not reached, the same membership terms may not be offered in the future.
Wafler Nursery in New York will produce the trees, which are to be available for planting in 2012, with all trees planted by 2015.
In an interview, Crist said there might be some minimum amount of acreage required of a member, but it would likely be small, even under an acre. “The direct-market trade is important,” he said. “Direct marketers educate consumers about new varieties.” They tend to grow lots of varieties and market them in their season, so they have diverse orchards with small plantings. Wholesale market growers must have at least two acres to participate.
“Growers always wonder what is the right apple to plant,” Crist said. “We think we have two. We are confident in the Cornell program. And we think we have a heck of a plan here.”
The executive board, in a statement last year, said:
“The question for growers to ponder is if and how much should they invest in NYAG. There has been a lot of interest in managed varieties over the past few months, and this topic has been reviewed by many trade journals. Despite all of the opinions of how managed varieties will perform in the marketplace, the one fact that cannot be disputed is that the overall quality of the managed variety is the number-one deciding factor. Although there is a tremendous amount of work to be completed in quality evaluation for the first two Cornell releases, we are very pleased and excited by the potential of these two new selections. To command shelf space in an ever increasing competitive market, we feel continued variety improvement will be necessary. NYAG is offering an opportunity for growers to get on board in the managed variety system, and our business plan ensures continued investment into the long-term future to create superior varieties.”
“The NYAG-Cornell relationship will create a win/win/win situation for NYAG growers, Cornell University, and, ultimately, the apple consumer,” Lamont said. “The foundation has now been set for NYAG growers to build upon into the future.”