Adams County Nursery produces more than 650 different scion/rootstock combinations to meet the needs of the diverse fruit-growing community in the eastern United States.
The nursery, based in Aspers, Pennsylvania, grows 60 apple varieties on nine different rootstocks, as well as apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, and European and Asian pears. One of the challenges the business faces—apart from managing a huge inventory—is making more new varieties available to growers.
Honeycrisp is clearly the best-selling apple, but Phil Baugher, vice president for marketing, said it’s difficult to discern other variety trends because orchardists selling through retail markets need a wide variety of fruits to offer.
The nursery hosted a visit by members of the International Fruit Tree Association in February. Baugher told how the nursery works with breeding programs and variety developers around the world so it has new products to offer to its customers. The nursery’s variety test orchards include selections from four private and five public breeding programs, including new, disease-resistant apples.
Asked about the trend towards managed varieties, Baugher said it’s something that the next generation of nursery owners needs to be paying attention to now.
“Where the nursery industry plugs into that whole system has yet to be seen,” he said. “We have many questions about it, and I think customers are very concerned.”
Since 1994, Adams County Nursery has produced some of its trees in Delaware, on leased land previously used to produce other commodities, such as soybeans or poultry. It moves into fresh ground every year.
Baugher said the nursery used to dig all its trees in the spring, but now digs in November, so that it is ready to ship into southern states—such as Alabama or Arkansas—as early as mid-January, when there might still be snow on the ground in Pennsylvania. The shipping season can end as late as June for trees going to Nova Scotia or Quebec in Canada. The nursery ships about 25,000 orders a year, mostly to areas east of the Mississippi.
Baugher said peach and pear trees are the most difficult to store because they’re kept upright with their roots in aged sawdust, rather than bareroot on skids. Temperature and humidity are more critical with peaches than with other types of tree fruits.
The nursery does not sell sleeping eyes, and is rarely asked for them. The typical customer is focused on growing high-quality fruit for the retail market and plants a relatively small number of trees per acre, Baugher said, so they’re in a different economic situation than large-scale growers targeting the wholesale market.
The nursery recently celebrated its centennial. The business was established in 1905 by Henry Gideon Baugher, who later diversified into packing and shipping fresh fruit, primarily York Imperial apples. The fruit was packed in barrels and shipped by rail to ports for export to Europe. As demand increased, he built a barrel factory.
Henry’s son George joined the business after serving with the U.S. Army in Europe during World War I. Henry’s son John Baugher and his wife, Nadine, led the company from 1975 to 2005.
The business is now run by John and Nadine’s children: John Baugher, Jr., who is president and general manager; Chris Baugher, vice president of operations; Julia Baugher Haller, office manager; and Phil.
A fifth generation has joined the business: Julia’s sons Eric and David Haller, and John Jr.’s daughter Jennifer Baugher.
The family has 300 acres of orchard as well as the nursery operation.