Nova Scotia apple growers like their replant program—and extended it
New York senator thinks it’s a model for U.S. industry.
When members of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association heard that New York Senator Charles Schumer liked their apple orchard renewal program so much he proposed a similar one for American growers, they didn’t know whether to be proud or worried.
“We were thankful he referenced it,” Dela Erith said. “It was a pat on the back. But certainly we compete with New York growers for the same markets, and our program was designed to make us more competitive.”
Erith is executive director of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association, which has about 70 grower members who grow most of the 6,000 acres of tree fruit, mostly apples, in Nova Scotia. In recent years, growers in this old production region have taken on new life. Part of their reputation lies in production of Northern Spy apples for two large pie plants that export fresh and frozen pies across North America, but recently it’s been tied to Honeycrisp and other fresh-market varieties.
In 2001, Erith said, the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association, established in 1863, developed an industry vitalization program. Orchard renewal is part of that strategy. The association sought financial support from the provincial government for its proposed Honeycrisp Orchard Renewal Program. Not only did the growers win support—$1.175 million over the five years 2005-2009, plus additional allocations in 2008 and 2009 and a $235,000 extension for planting in 2010—the variety list was increased beyond Honeycrisp to include Ambrosia, Gala, and special market opportunity cultivars such as SweeTango.
By the end of this year, about 50 growers will have shared $1.845 million, Erith said.
She says the cost of planting a new orchard in Nova Scotia is about $20,000 an acre, not including land cost, so the money is a drop in the bucket. And that’s a criticism some U.S. growers are making of Schumer’s proposal to spread $20 million a year over the estimated 7,500 apple growers in the United States. At that cost, $20 million would plant 1,000 acres a year.
“We’ve replanted about 350 of our 6,000 acres of apples under the replant program,” Erith said, “so this was not a major retrofit.”
But while it may not have added much fuel to the fire, she says it was a spark that set the fuel on fire.
For every government dollar they got, growers invested $3 of their own money to plant the hot varieties. Even more important, she said, it pulled the industry together around the industry-developed strategic plan.
“Orchard renewal is part of a business model,” she said. “The cultivars were chosen because consumers want them. There’s a marketing plan and a research program to support getting a quality product to market. Everybody’s working together. This is a whole industry activity,” Erith said.
The program was structured to give all Nova Scotia growers access if they wanted it. There were planting limits; initially, a grower could get money to convert no more than 10 percent of his or her acreage, with a minimum planting of one acre. That maximum planting was raised to 20 percent of acreage. Growers could plant between 300 and 800 trees per acre. Overall, funding will cover a minimum of 188,265 trees, of which 30 percent can be approved pollinizers.
Funding was made on a per-tree basis within those ranges. Growers received $9.80 per supported tree, and $6.30 for unsupported.
While funding came from the government, the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association administered and monitored it, setting up a steering committee to take applications and follow up with orchard inspections—site inspection, planting inspection, annual inspections—and growers agreed to keep the plantings at least ten years.
Growers had to submit an Orchard Renewal Plan outlining what they intended to do and how, and also a Marketing Plan.
The Nova Scotia program is a provincial program and should not be confused with the Orchards and Vineyards Transition Program, which is a federal program in Canada, administered with different rules in the various provinces. It is a program designed to help growers pay the cost of removing old orchards and vineyards, but it does address replanting,
Sen. Schumer announced his intention to introduce legislation called the APPLE Act—an acronym for Apple Profit Protection for Local Economies—and said it was modeled after Nova Scotia’s Honeycrisp Orchard Renewal Program. If adopted, it would provide $20 million per year for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give out low-interest loans and grants to orchard owners, associations of producers, or farm cooperatives to upgrade orchards. Growers would apply to the USDA.
Schumer made the announcement the same day Cornell University announced release of two new varieties and the New York Apple Growers announced it had made an agreement with Cornell for its members—New York growers only—to grow and market these varieties.
And while the APPLE Act would create a program open to all U.S. apple growers, his press announcement was targeted to his New York grower constituents.
“The time is ripe for renewal,” Schumer said in his press release. “Converting apple orchards in New York to newer varieties will allow them to take advantage of the growing demand for these types of apples. We have a great opportunity to increase apple production and sales and that is why I am introducing legislation to get this modernization program going as soon as possible so that apple farmers can reap the fruits of their labor.”
Consumer preference for new varieties of apples has driven up profits for those orchardists who have been able to replace old trees with trees that can produce these new apples, but planting new varieties can be extraordinarily expensive, he said.
Schumer’s press secretary, Max Young, said the senator’s office was working with growers and apple industry organizations to fine-tune details before introducing the bill.