So, this is where it all began—the North American apple industry, that is.
Apples have been grown in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley since the French explorer Samuel de Champlain first settled at what is now Annapolis Royal in 1605. This was the first permanent European settlement in North America north of Florida. The British later took the province, and the French settlers (known as Acadians) were forcibly expelled. Nova Scotia was later resettled by British, Dutch, German, and American immigrants. The largest single influx of settlers (35,000) was from New England at the end of the American Revolution—people loyal to the British Crown who wished to stay in the New World.
When these first French settlers arrived in the New World, it is speculated that they brought apple trees or seed with them. Their intention was not to produce shiny dessert apples, but rather to grow apples as a source of alcoholic cider to make the long winters pass more quickly. Apples also provided a source of vitamin C to ward off scurvy. These are thought to be the first apple trees planted in North America, long before the larger apple-growing areas of North America were ever settled.
It is only fitting, therefore, that the International Fruit Tree Association will be returning to visit the birthplace of the apple industry in North America for its summer tour, prior to its annual conference to be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the birthplace of the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association, in 2010.
Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley is located at 45° north latitude, or for those who think in terms of the frozen North, about 160 miles south of Wenatchee in Washington State. The maritime climate, which is characterized by a late spring, regular rainfall, moderate summer temperatures, cool nights, and warm days in the early fall make it an ideal climate for producing red varieties of apples. The lack of intense heat also results in firm fruit texture at harvest. These ideal conditions resulted in McIntosh accounting for almost one-half of the apples produced in Nova Scotia up until a few years ago. McIntosh is still king, with at least 20 percent of the province’s production dedicated to this variety. Alar was never used to a great extent in this area, as McIntosh were usually well colored by harvest time.
As part of the British Colonies, and later as one of Britain’s favored trading partners, Nova Scotia built its apple industry almost entirely around the export market. Apples were packed in wooden barrels and loaded into sailing vessels at one of the numerous small ports for the trip back to Europe.
The heyday of the Nova Scotian apple industry was prior to the Second World War. At that time, it was estimated that there were in excess of 30,000 acres of varieties such as Ribston, Baldwin, Gano, Wagener, and Golden Russet planted in the Annapolis Valley. With the loss of the overseas markets after the war, the industry went into a state of decline, and acreage dropped steadily to its present level of approximately 7,500 acres, with an annual production of 2.5 to 3 million bushels. Most of the acreage removed consisted of standard size trees of poor strains or obsolete varieties. (Continued on page #)
Plantings of the Malling series of semidwarf rootstocks began in the 1970s, and any new plantings were based on these. Many of these early plantings were widely spaced and never filled their allotted space, thus low productivity has plagued the industry in the past. The 1990s saw a renewed interest in the apple industry, with a ready acceptance of close spacings and dwarfing stocks. Many of these early semidwarf plantings have been removed and replaced with much closer spaced, supported plantings on M.9, M.26, M.7, and CG.30.
There are still a number of plantings being made on the semidwarf stocks such as MM.111 or MM.106, but these are now the exception. The cool climate and relatively thin soils have resulted in this area being one of the lowest vigor regions in which apples are grown. This has allowed, or rather encouraged us to plant more vigorous rootstocks at much closer spacings than other areas would deem manageable.
The industry also relied heavily on the processing market, and until the 1990s, there were three juice plants and two canneries located here. With the rise in production of processed apple products from developing countries in the 1980s, it was no longer economical to produce the traditional “peeler” varieties. The province is now down to one juice plant and no canneries. However, a new market has emerged for the Northern Spy apple in the form of “home-style” apple pies. We are now home to two pie-manufacturing plants, and a significant acreage of higher density Northern Spy orchards.
The defining moment for our industry was the introduction of Honeycrisp to this province in 1996. We now have significant acreage of this variety, and it is the most heavily planted variety in the area. Honeycrisp develops an intense red coloration in our area, and experiences very few problems with bitter pit or sunburn. We now have extensive plantings on a whole range of rootstocks and densities, many of which we will see on the tour. Honeycrisp will overtake McIntosh in total production in the near future. The high returns we have received for this variety have encouraged significant reinvestment in our farms, and the apple industry is now healthier than it has been for several decades.
Gala and Ambrosia are also being planted heavily, both for the fresh and fresh-sliced markets. Jonagold is still being planted, as it is well colored, firm textured, and stores very well under our conditions. Gala is being planted, with the striped strains being preferred by the consumer. Size has been a problem with varieties such as Gala and Empire due to the low heat units generated in our climate. Our growing season is too short for Fuji, Braeburn, Granny Smith, or Pink Lady.
The province boasts a population of approximately one million, spread over a land area of 21,500 square miles. The main industries are forestry, fishing, manufacturing, and tourism. The largest city and provincial capital is Halifax, which is about 50 miles from the Annapolis Valley.