The June 2015 issue of Good Fruit Grower examines how new varieties are changing the economics of the apple industry.

When the domestic market tilts toward some varieties and away from others, the game changes. Growers who made bets on certain varieties win and others lose.

I did an orchard tour recently with one grower who was determined to move away from Red Delicious and place his bets elsewhere, especially on Honeycrisp.

He would acknowledge everything that’s wrong about Honeycrisp; yes, it’s a challenge to grow and pack. But there’s good money to be made with Honeycrisp.

In farming, it used to be they eat what we grow. Today, it’s different. We grow what they want.

Ed Kershaw, chief executive officer of Domex Superfresh Growers, described the role of the consumer in a talk he gave to the Yakima Rotary Club in April. Consumers, he said, decide which varieties are grown and not grown.

They make their choices based on their own research and advice from trusted friends, a decision cycle that is shared on social media. If consumers like something, they spread the good news.

Ed Kershaw

Ed Kershaw

Consumers, he said, are the new sales force of the fruit industry.

“Consumers today are curious and they are continually engaged. They can engage with the grower. They can engage with each other,” said Kershaw. “They do their own research and more importantly, they share with their friends. They trust their friends. They don’t trust sales people. And what they found is one of our red-hot apple varieties, called Honeycrisp. It’s now their first choice.”

Honeycrisp is not the only agent of change. Kershaw thinks the Cosmic Crisp variety, developed by Washington State University, will be a winner.  Organic fruit continues to gain market strength. Genetically modified (GMO) apples are coming. It will be an option, he said, with consumers making decisions.  Hopefully, the “noise” around GMO won’t confuse consumers into thinking all apples are GMO, he said.

The days of planting one variety and expecting it to pay off for generations are over, he said. From time to time, an orchard “must be remodeled.” Consumer choices change.

As a result of these and other changes, growers must think carefully. He listed key questions:  What will we plant? Do consumers love it? Will it grow best in this location? Can Washington State grow it better than any place on Earth? Will what we plant be relevant in 10 years?

We live in exciting times. A revolution in food is under way. Growers occupy the front line.

Update: I’m pleased to announce that G.S. Long of Union Gap, Washington, is the featured sponsor for our popular Young Grower series. Look for the company’s logo in print and on our online platforms, including a video with each young farmer. The new generation of growers is pretty impressive. •