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More funding for research will be needed in order for organic tree fruit growers to survive in the future, grower Dain Craver of Royal City, Washington, said at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s convention in December.

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission collects an assessment of $1 per ton on apples and $4 a ton on cherries. Craver encouraged organic growers to participate in the commission’s research reviews and to make their research needs known. He said he would like to see organic growers contribute more money for research. "For us to survive, we have to come up with better technology and better ways to do things."

Using electronic survey technology, Craver conducted a poll of the people who packed into the organic session during the convention. Of the 178 people responding, 34 percent were growers and 41 percent said they worked with organic orchards.

Insect management was the top research priority, followed by weed control and fruit quality, the poll indicated. Respondents ranked codling moth and woolly apple aphid as the pests most difficult to control, but 65 percent felt the existing tools for controlling codling moth were either fair or good. However, more than half were dissatisfied with the current options for weed control.

Fifty-six percent of the respondents felt research on how to produce nitrogen in the orchard should be a high priority in order to reduce the costs of trucking in commercial fertilizers, while another 32 percent rated it moderately important.

Sixty percent said developing methods for measuring soil quality and studying the impacts on the trees and fruit should be a high priority. Development of new varieties and rootstocks and economic studies were low priorities.

Eighty-six percent said there was a need for more research on postharvest disease control for organic apples in order to expand the marketing season. SmartFresh (MCP) cannot be used on organic apples.

Almost 30 percent said organic production would no longer be worthwhile if the prices for organic apples were the same as conventional. Another 24 percent said it would not be worthwhile even with a 10 percent premium, but 13 percent said they would continue to grow organic regardless of the pricing.

Most respondents estimated the cost of growing apples organically to be 10 or 20 percent higher than for conventional fruit.