At Beak and Skiff Apple Farms, located south of Syracuse in Lafayette, New York, adding value to apples takes center stage.
"We’ve taken the approach that going value-added is the way to survive in the apple business," said Steve Morris, son-in-law of the Beak family. "We’ve gone value-added on a bigger scale than most."
Two families merged businesses in the early 1900s to create Beak and Skiff, a wholesale market apple business that at one time farmed 600 acres. Today, company holdings include about 300 acres of apples, a U-pick operation, fresh fruit stand, gift store, bakery, winery, packing line, controlled atmosphere cold storage rooms, and fresh cider processing. The retail businesses generate about one-third of the company’s total receipts.
The pick-your-own apples enterprise, which is one of the largest in the state, was started in the mid-1970s and has expanded to around 70 acres. It is open for a 14-week season. During the peak season-on a good day-6,000 customers come to pick apples. "If we had perfect weather throughout the harvest season, we could sell most of the crop through U-pick," Morris said. "But if it rains, we lose a lot of sales."
Beak and Skiff diversified into commercial fresh cider sales in 1979, pioneering the use of flash pasteurization. The cider enterprise runs year round, and they make cider for many different custom labels.
Another new venture is the Beak and Skiff Winery, which produces about 1,500 cases annually of wines made from Empire, Gala, and Northern Spy apple varieties. Hard cider made from a blend of apple varieties is also sold at the winery that has its tasting room located in what was an unoccupied farmhouse.
Beak and Skiff orchards are not blessed in their location as others in western New York that benefit from being near large bodies of water. "Our soils are heavy and tend to grow smaller sizes of apples," Morris said, however, their apples tend to be firmer than those grown in other regions. "Originally, Beak and Skiff served only the local market."
As the wholesale market has changed, preferring larger sizes, Beak and Skiff has looked to value-added products like the winery and a potential distillery to help them survive. They export Empire apples to the United Kingdom, a market that will take smaller sizes, and grow only varieties that do best under their conditions.
A four-lane packing line gives them flexibility in packing their own fruit, allowing them an outlet for the wholesale market.