Apr 7, 2007
Nurseries: Growers Should Order Early

With the proliferation of good varieties and fruit rootstocks of all kinds, a key problem for growers is getting exactly what they want to plant. Nurseries aren’t carrying all the possible combinations of choices.

The best way is to order the trees a year and a half or more in advance, the time it takes for a nursery to make your tree to order.

Van Moore, who owns and operates the Nursery Connection, a tree brokerage firm near Coloma, Mich., said that nurseries are shifting more and more to contract production.

“Nurseries are stopping speculation budding,” he said. “For growers who want to wait until planting time to buy trees, there’s less variety to choose from.

“There are many more contract orders. The nurseries get a dollar or a dollar and a half up front, which covers their cost of growing the tree. It helps assure that growers will plant what they’ve produced ¬– or lose the money they put down.”

As a “tree finder” working for growers, Moore said it’s getting harder to find trees ready for sale that meet the growers’ desires.

”Growers are always looking for something new, a winner,” he said. “I can tell them what’s hot, but supply might not be there.”

Take Honeycrisp as an example. When it was first propagated, most trees were on M-9 rootstock, which proved too dwarfing for the weak-growing variety, Moore said. Many growers are shifting to M-26 “to kick it up a bit on vigor.” And at the beginning, growers were unsure whether they could grow the fruit because of its bitter pit problem. Now, they are solving the problem with multiple calcium sprays.

Bottom line, demand for Honeycrisp is bigger than first anticipated, but the rootstock has shifted.

A nursery likes to produce to demand rather than try to guess what demand will be, Moore said.

Among the hot varieties, Moore said Gala remains the best-selling apple, but growers have 10 to 15 named sports to choose among. Three or four of those are really hot and well advertised.

In peaches, Redhaven remains the leading seller and BabyGold is strong.

“But there are so many other good varieties. There are probably more Flamin’ Fury peaches sold than Redhavens, but no single variety is that dominant,” he said.

Another trend is toward sub-acid and donut peaches, he said.

“They have a different flavor and look and they sell great at green markets and retail stands,” Moore said. “Sellers can charge 25 to 50 percent more for them.”

Wally Heuser at Summit Tree Sales in Laurence, Mich., agreed. Nurseries are carrying small inventories, so it pays to order ahead.

“A grower needs to have a plan and follow it,” he said. “He shouldn’t be buying whatever’s left on the shelf.”

Honeycrisp is hot and Galas continue to sell strongly. But with the advent of five-week-earlier Fuji strains like Rising Sun, that variety fits into the Midwest and East where before it was too long-season.

Heuser is impressed with Honeycrisp, which is “breaking all the rules of marketing.” It’s broken price barriers and really does well in the Northeastern U.S. climate. Born in Minnesota, it likes cool weather and colors better in the North than in the South or Pacific Northwest.

“It’s a pretty unique apple,” he said. “It’s a difficult apple to grow, a real challenge, but it’s going to be a major player for some time to come.”

In peaches, “there are so many new varieties, it’s mind-boggling.”

The new varieties are redder, rounder and larger, so nice that “even Redhavens are losing ground,” he said. The white-fleshed varieties are doing well, too, although consumers continue to like the traditional sugar-acid balance as opposed to very sweet varieties.

While many new peach varieties do very well in the Eastern United States, the same can’t be said for nectarines.

“There are not many good varieties here (in the East), and we haven’t seen the effort (in breeding them) that has been applied in California.”

The growth of direct retail sales through farm markets has helped stone fruits like plums and apricots. What would help is a later-blooming apricot, and Heuser said one is coming soon that might fill the bill.

Growers thinking about planting tart cherries are still going to choose Montmorency, Heuser said, unless they have some special marketing possibilities.

“Breaking into processing is tough,” he said. “Processors are slow to change.”

The red-skinned, red-fleshed, sweet-tart Balaton is being joined by Balaton-like varieties – Jubilee and Danube – but they all require a direct fresh sales market or some other niche. None of these have dislodged Montmorency from the processing market.

Sweet cherries are doing great.

“We have 25 varieties, at least,” Heuser said.

The new Gisela rootstocks have brought trees down to a good size, and that has really helped one variety, Cavalier. It’s a nice, early cherry that “didn’t do well on the older rootstocks but does great on Gisela.”

What people want in cherries is dark, sweet, firm and big, Heuser said, and several varieties do the job – over an extended season that’s getting longer.

“It used to be a two-week season, but now it’s four to six,” he said.

Heuser likes a new variety called Regina, a later cherry that came out of northern Germany (Heuser brought it). It’s crack-resistant, firm, large and winterhardy, he said. At his cherry variety showcase earlier this summer, the Regina cherries didn’t persist on the sample table.

A question for the future: What about apples? Some areas of the country are looking for niche fruits, like pluots, that might sell off the fresh market stand and take them away from the punishing markets for juice and processing.





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