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The long-term way for apple growers to improve their profitability is to become better horticulturists, says Yakima, Washington, fruit grower and packer Bruce Allen.

He estimates that most growers make money on 30 to 40 percent of their crop, at the most.

For example, almost all Gala growers make money on the top two color grades, and sizes 64 to 88 because the marketers do a good job of selling those grades and sizes.

“You have to be able to grow the fruit that your marketer or sales desk can sell,” he told growers at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s convention. “If you’re growing the wrong size, grade, or variety of fruit, you’re doomed to failure. If you continue to do what you did in the past, how can you expect different results?”

Growers with marginally efficient orchard systems are going to produce less target fruit than competitors with more efficient systems, he noted. Those with enough profitability to renovate their orchards will need to go to a system that has a shorter establishment phase and can generate a positive cash flow in three years or less. “That’s what the competition is doing, and that’s what you’re going to have to do if you’re going to stay in business,” he stressed.

To accomplish that, you have to be willing to take risks, he added. “If you’re going to simply wait until you’ve done all the analysis, the opportunity will have passed you by.”

If you risk capital or make any type of business decision, it’s not simply a matter of being able to take the risk, but you must realize you’re taking a risk and minimize the amount of time you’re in the implementation stage where performance is less than you envisioned.

“It’s not how fast you go,” Allen said. “It’s how quickly you can change directions.”

In everything you do, there is constant feedback, and you must be able to take that feedback, make decisions, and take a different approach or tactic if necessary, he added.