Jun 26, 2019
Michigan apple industry investigates organic production

Michigan apple growers are taking a second look at growing organic.

Michigan Apple Committee Executive Director Diane Smith said June 25 the group had funded a feasibility study examining the cost of switching orchards over from traditional to organic growing techniques. The group conducted a similar study about 10 years ago, she said.

The Michigan Apple Committee is paying $7,500 for Michigan State University (MSU) agriculture economist Bill Knudson to conduct the feasibility study.

“When we looked at it before, the study basically didn’t show that if a grower were to convert an orchard over to organic, the price premium just wasn’t there to make up for what that was going to cost,” Smith said. “Obviously, with Michigan, we have a lot of pests and water that creates kind of an issue.”

Many apple diseases, such as fire blight, spread with rain and moisture. Disease and pest pressure have historically made growing organic apples a challenge few Michigan growers have tackled. But chemistries have changed in the last 10 years, and so have retail prices for organic produce.

“The price gap between organic and conventional is narrowing all the time,” Smith said. “So, we’re not quite sure what this will come up with, but we do have some new cost of production (research) that was done by (MSU Extension educators) Phil Schwallier and Amy Irish-Brown, so that’s going to be utilized this time.”

The feasibility study would completed sometime in the fall, before the winter trade shows – a timing that would enable the MSU researchers to meet deadlines for submitting related research grant applications, Smith said.

Few large Michigan growers currently grow organic apples. One notable example is Flushing, Michigan’s Almar Orchards and Cidery, which produces organic apples and organic JK’s Farmhouse Ciders, she said.

“We’re just trying to look at it holistically, and see the big picture and see what would be involved for a grower,” Smith said. “They have to be able to make money on their crop – they can’t take a loss every year, and they need to make a decision.”

Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor


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