Managing Climate Change on Apple Orchards

Project Overview

GS11-107
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2011: $9,954.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: University of North Texas
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. James Veteto
University of North Texas

Commodities

  • Fruits: apples, general tree fruits

Practices

  • Crop Production: agroforestry
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, genetic resistance, weather monitoring
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, social networks, sustainability measures

    Abstract:

    In order to understand the local observations of climate change and its potential effects on agrobiodiversity, this project analyzed the climatic observations and management decisions of apple orchardists due to the longevity of apple trees and also their sensitivity to changes in the environment. The research site in western North Carolina was chosen because the central and southern Appalachians contain more documented apple varieties than anywhere else in North America. Results from the research show an even higher level of apple diversity than was previously documented, yet indicated factors such as warming trends and consumer demand may threaten it.

    Introduction

    Project Description

    In February of 2011 I had the pleasure of meeting ethnobotanist Dr. Will McClatchey—Vice President and Director of Research at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT)—while he was at UNT delivering a presentation to Dr. Jim Veteto’s Ethnoecology class. Dr. McClatchey and his PhD student Mr. Dave Reedy spoke to the class about their extensive research concerning the folk taxonomy of cider apples in the U.S. and U.K. as well as the growers’ knowledge of cider as a useful water source (Reedy et al 2009; McClatchey & Reedy 2010).  After the class, Dr. Veteto and I sat down with Dr. McClatchey and Mr. Reedy to discuss their new international project, entitled “Resilience of European Orchard Systems to Climate Change: Traditional Observations of Managed Ecosystem Dynamics.” As the title suggests, this project analyzes long-term climate observations that orchard managers have made as well as their responses to these observed changes.
    The premise of this project relies on a number of important points. First is the understanding that apple orchards are human-engineered ecosystems, and these ecosystems rely on a considerable amount of human management to continue producing. Apple trees are highly sensitive to changes in growing conditions, leading orchard managers to make important decisions about planting varieties they believe will thrive in the current and future conditions. In addition to this, young apple trees take roughly four or five years before they even begin to produce fruit, and orchard managers expect them to produce for anywhere from 20 to 100 years. Because of these characteristics, successful orchard managers are forced to be acute observers of past, present and future climate conditions in order to make informed decisions. An inquiry into orchardists’ management practices has potential to provide a longitudinal understanding of climate change that would be of great benefit to global climate change studies (McClatchey ND).  My practicum project was designed in part to provide pilot data for the greater BRIT research project and inform them of venues needing further exploration.
    Coincidentally, Dr. Veteto had just helped produce a publication with Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) titled “Place-Based Foods of Appalachia,” in which local Appalachian fruit and vegetable varieties were documented – including 633 distinctly named heirloom or heritage apple varieties (2011). This enormous amount of apple diversity led us to realize the potential of incorporating an Appalachian location into Dr. McClatchey’s greater project. This large amount of apple diversity allows local orchardists to be highly discriminatory when choosing varieties to bring into their orchards. The project also has potential to supplement the RAFT varietal list and evaluate the state of apple diversity in the area. In addition, a large majority of managed apple orchards were introduced to the U.S. on the east coast during the time of colonization, allowing this project to research some of the oldest multi-generational orchards in the U.S. The specific research site in western North Carolina was selected because of the density of apple orchards in the area as well as the potential to utilize Dr. Veteto’s established contacts from his previous research (2008, 2010, 2011).  
    Climate change poses a serious threat to the sustainability of all agricultural systems, and adapting these systems to a changing climate is imperative to maintain the world’s food supply. The greater purpose of this project is not only to improve the sustainability of local apple production but to work toward sustainable agriculture in general. This practicum project was awarded funding from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE) because managed ecosystems of long-term, climate-sensitive crops like apple orchards are an ideal place to learn about climatic changes and successful (or unsuccessful) adaptive strategies. Additionally, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reports that genetically diverse ecosystems have a greater potential to adapt to climate change (2007), reinforcing the importance of preserving agricultural diversity. The location adds further significance because mountain regions are among the most fragile of all ecosystems (Parish and Funnell 1999).  As one of the pioneers in the field of mountain anthropology noted, “Mountains are excellent laboratories for the study of climate variability and societal response” (Rhoades 2007:155). To date, few anthropological climate change studies have incorporated an agrobiodiversity analysis.  Due to the abundance of apple varieties in western North Carolina, documenting this diversity and analyzing the management decisions of local apple orchardists has yielded information about the current and future state of this diversity, and therefore offered conclusions about its sustainability.
    Staying consistent with Dr. McClatchey’s greater project while addressing the sustainable agriculture interests from SARE, I have produced the following research problem, goal, and questions:

    Research Problem: To investigate the climatic changes southern Appalachian orchardists are noticing, their responses to these changes, and the effect of these changes on local apple diversity.

    Research Questions:
    1. What are the heirloom/heritage apple varieties being grown locally?
    a. What factors are having an effect on local apple biodiversity?
    2. What environmental (weather, pest, disease) changes have the orchardists observed?
    a. What environmental changes do the orchardists anticipate?
    b. To what do they attribute these changes?
    3. How have the orchardists responded to the observed changes?
    4. What kind of information do orchardists have access to regarding climate change and what do they consider when planting new varieties of trees?

    Literature Review

    The nature of this project is interdisciplinary and overlaps multiple domains of research that require attention. The first topic I will discuss is the current state of work being done by climatologists about the evidence of climate variability and anthropogenic climate change. This will establish important definitions of climate-related terms to be used throughout this report. Scientific evidence and public perception regarding climate change will also be provided for the context of my research. I will then discuss the topic of sustainability as it relates to genetic or agricultural diversity and climatic change. Following this will be a summary of related research that has been done in and around the field of anthropology. Climate change has recently become a popular research topic in environmental anthropology as it is an increasingly ominous threat to humans all over the world. Most important for this project are the disciplines of agricultural anthropology, climate and culture studies, and ethnoecology.

    A. Climate Variability and Climate Change
    With every passing year, season, and extreme weather event, evidence of climate change across the world is mounting and moving from a scientific theory to a cross-cultural reality. By means of unprecedented unanimity, internationally recognized scientists and organizations are gathering and disseminating evidence of increasing global temperatures and the resulting effects on rising sea levels, melting ice, and increasing unpredictability and intensity of extreme weather events. Furthermore, the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees these climate changes are linked to human actions which increase atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide (IPCC 2007a). The following section will describe the scientific consensus regarding climate change, its correlation with human activities, the linkage to recent extreme weather events, issues regarding the public perception of climate change, and finally a short description of recent climatic trends in my western North Carolina research site.

    The Historical and Scientific Context
    It is important to first note that dealing with climate oscillations is not a new phenomenon.  Climate variability has been occurring throughout the history of the world, which all past and present cultures have had to manage.  We know the distribution of vegetation has shifted greatly in response to these past climate fluctuations by studying preserved pollen and organic material, among additional proxy data  (Aguado and Burt 2013). Many researchers will therefore distinguish between “climate variability” and “climate change,” the latter meaning human induced change and sometimes referred to as “anthropogenic climate change” . Anthropogenic climate change, though, is also something not entirely new.  It has been documented that multiple past human civilizations have impacted their regional climates (Orlove 2005), but the problem is that current human activities are now having an impact on global climate.  It is the troubling combination of climate variability and global climate change that has contributed to the multitude of environmental problems our world is now facing. One of the world’s leading experts on climate research, Dr. James Hansen, introduced the concept of “climate dice” in 1988 to explain the interaction between climate variability and climate change. He explains that natural variability leads to some warm summers and some cool summers. But as climate change interacts with this variability, the die is now loaded to favor more warm summers. This does not eliminate the possibility of cool summers, but gives greater odds to the possibility of warm summers (Hansen 2012).
    In the past several decades climate change research has exploded with multiple varying opinions and explanations as to what is actually happening and what is causing it. In response to the large amount of published research being funded by biased interest groups holding an economic stake in the results , scientists worldwide came together in 1988 to establish the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. This is the leading international scientific body for the assessment of climate change, established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. The IPCC consists of thousands of scientists from 195 countries who voluntarily contribute their independent work for peer-review with the objective of providing rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. Since it was created the IPCC has produced four assessment reports, the most recent being in 2007 with the fifth set to be finalized in 2014 (IPCC 2013).
    Scientifically agreed-upon measurements show that global average air and ocean temperatures are warming. This includes warming surface temperatures as well as warming lower- and mid-tropospheric temperatures. Warmer air holds more water vapor, and evidence of increased water vapor content also confirms this warming. The world’s oceans absorb the majority of the added heat to our climate system, and evidence of increasing ocean temperatures to depths of at least 3,000 meters have been confirmed. The warming of seawater causes it to expand, leading to rising sea levels. Also adding to the sea level rise is documented melting mountain glaciers and snow cover in both the northern and southern hemisphere. For many glacial areas this melting is increasing exponentially (IPCC 2007a). Although it is important to note that different ecosystems and geographic areas will experience different climatic changes, the general global warming trend will cause some broad changes. Dry regions are expected to get drier and wet regions expected to get wetter—including increased intensity and frequency of floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events. The rise of sea level and sea temperature are projected to cause mass flooding and increased cyclone frequency as well as intensity, and the melting of snowpack will cause stress on freshwater supplies for many land areas (IPCC 2007b).
    Human actions altering the energy balance of the climate system—such as increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols in the atmosphere and changes in land cover—are cited as the causes of the changes mentioned above. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are the primary greenhouse gasses which have increased markedly as a result of human actions. Carbon dioxide increases are considered to be the most significant (IPCC 2007b). Carbon dioxide concentrations have been linked to fossil fuel use and land-use change such as deforestation, while methane concentrations have most likely increased due to modern agricultural practices. Scientists agree that during the past fifty years “the sum of solar and volcanic forcings would likely have produced cooling” yet the opposite occurred, and this rise in global average temperature over the last fifty years is “very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations” (IPCC 2007b: 5). Scientists can point to a similar event roughly 45 to 55 million years ago called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum that was characterized by massive releases of carbon dioxide and methane from multiple sources which led to an unprecedented increase in global temperatures of more than five degrees over  a period of about 20,000 years (Aguado and Burt 2013). Compared to our current situation, models predict an increase in anywhere from 1°C in 20 years to 2.5°C in 50 years depending on emission scenarios (Hansen et al. 2012).
    Confirming the IPCC’s credibility, recent studies have surveyed researchers from across scientific disciplines and came to the conclusion that roughly 97 percent of the professionals in qualified fields agree with the IPCC’s findings that the global average temperatures have increased in the past 100 years (Lichter 2008; Farnsworth and Lichter 2012). Adding to this, a 2010 survey found that 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree with IPCC’s tenets of anthropogenic climate change (Anderegg et al. 2010). This was based on an earlier survey reporting 84 percent of climate scientists agreed human-induced warming was occurring (Lichter 2008). Scientist and author James L. Powell (2012) recently reported his independent analysis of 13,950 peer-reviewed scientific articles published between January 1991 and November 2012 found only .17 percent of them to clearly reject global warming or support an explanation other than carbon dioxide emissions as the cause. These studies and others confirm that an overwhelming majority of qualified researchers recognize climate change and the role that human actions have played.

    Recent Extreme Weather and Climate Change
    As scientists across the world work to analyze climate data and produce climate models about what is and what will be happening to the earth’s climatic systems, evidence of climate change may be happening all around us—and this is not exclusive to the warmer global average temperatures. As previously mentioned, scientists expect the occurrence of extreme weather events to increase with climate change. In early 2012 the IPCC produced a special report describing evidence on how “A changing climate leads to changes in frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events” (2012:5). When discussing extreme weather events it is important to distinguish between weather and climate, the latter being long-term patterns that are typically decadal or longer. Because of this distinction, sporadic extreme weather events do not necessarily prove the existence of climate change.
    However, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events occurring in the past ten years have led many researchers to cite them as evidence of global climate change. The American Meteorological Association concurs, saying “now it is widely accepted that attribu¬tion statements about individual weather or climate events are possible, provided proper account is taken of the probabilistic nature of attribution” (Peterson et al 2012:1042).  Peterson and her colleagues use a similar analogy to Hansen’s “climate dice”: If a baseball player begins taking steroids and afterwards hits on average twenty percent more home runs in a season than in previous seasons, all other things being equal, it is possible to say steroid use increased the probability of the player hitting a home run by twenty percent. This is similar to the relationship between anthropogenic climate change (steroids) and climate variability (the player’s natural ability) (2012). Citing the frequency of extremely hot weather events, Hansen says over the period from 1951 to 1980 these events covered about .1 to .2 percent of the globe. Since 1981 extreme heat weather events now cover about ten percent of the globe (Hansen 2012). In a 2011 publication it was reported that high-temperature records were reported from eighteen countries in the year 2010— which itself was a record, breaking the previous record of high temperatures in fifteen countries set only three years prior (Brown 2011).

    Public Perceptions of Climate Change
    The IPCC and other leaders in climate science continually produce climate models predicting the dire consequences of our continued use of fossil fuels. These predictions paint concerning pictures for the future of humanity as well as for natural ecosystems. Due to the growing scientific consensus of this reality, many governments have recognized the need to limit emissions. Sadly, only a few countries have made significant progress, and the reality is that global emissions are still increasing and new efforts are being made to greatly expand fossil fuel extraction. One issue needing to be addressed is that, while governmental policies and regulations are of major importance in regulating fossil fuel emissions, fundamental change is doubtful without public support (Hansen et al. In press).
    It is logically expected that as acceptance of climate change among professionals solidifies, the general public will follow suit. There are, however, many barriers to the general public’s ability to fully understand and acknowledge the reality of climate change. A 2012 publication from Hansen et al. claims that a perceptive person who experienced the climate from 1951- 1980 should recognize the existence of climate change because, during that time, summers defined as cold occurred around 33 percent of the time, and now occur only ten percent of the time. Conversely, summers defined as hot during that period occurred around 33 percent of the time yet now occur about 75 percent of the time. This study goes on to say that, although this should be a noticeable change in climate over the course of an older person’s lifetime, people have trouble discerning climate change from climate variability. That the natural variability of the local climate is a major barrier to the recognition and acceptance of climate change is of huge significance for winning public support on climate change mitigation efforts. This understanding also plays a major role in interpreting the results of this project, as will be discussed in the findings section.
    Perhaps the greatest barrier preventing the public from acknowledging climate change is not their inability to observe it— that will most likely work itself out with a few more years of our current weather patterns— the most critical problem is the continued corporate manipulation of science and public perception. Just as tobacco companies once got away with funding misleading scientific reports and advertising which advanced their political agenda, the world’s largest polluting corporations are hard at work manipulating both the public and policy makers’ perceptions of anthropogenic climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists (2012) issued a publication spelling out the plethora of ways corporations are influencing scientific consensus, policy making, and public perception of environmental and public health issues. Among the issues presented in the report are examples of corporations terminating or withholding research results that threaten their objective, private intimidation or public vilification of scientists, manipulation of study designs for their bias, playing up false uncertainty of scientific consensus, and using various methods to manipulate media attention. Just as frightening and damaging are the examples of corporate influences in the democratic system. The so-called “revolving door” between executive positions in regulated industries and key decision-making positions in the government creates clear financial conflicts of interest, which leads to poor decision making, an erosion of public trust in the government, and a manipulation of the public perception on key issues such as climate change (2012). A PEW Research Center survey published on October 15, 2012 confirms these tactics are working on U.S. citizens: when asked if scientists agree the earth is getting warmer because of human activity, 45 percent of respondents answered yes, 43 percent no, and 12 percent said they did not know.
    Further complicating this issue are studies indicating that people’s perceptions of climate change is not necessarily a simple matter of knowing or not knowing the scientific evidence. In regards to individuals who are sufficiently informed, there are psychological and social barriers preventing them from taking action and demanding climate change become a more public issue. Psychologically, people avoid unpleasant emotions and may therefore be less likely to discuss the issue and take action against it (Norgaard 2006a) or they simply do not see climate change as a personal and tangible threat (Lowe and Lorenzoni 2007). Moreover, research in sociology has exposed the presence of what is referred to as socially organized denial. An ethnographic research project in Norway shows how Norwegian reliance on oil for economic prosperity has led many to ignore the issue of climate change (Norgaard 2006b) — a finding of which the U.S. and many other Western nations are most certainly guilty.
    Looking at recent surveys conducted regarding American’s perceptions of climate change is useful to complete the context of climate change perceptions. The various surveys ask slightly different questions and produce varying results but are still useful indicators for measuring general American perceptions. To begin with, the PEW Research Center survey in October of 2012 reports that 67 percent of Americans believe there is solid evidence of warming earth temperatures, which is up from 57 percent in 2009.  This data seems to be consistent with a 2011 survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, which found 65 percent of Americans believe global warming is happening . This same study found that 46 percent of Americans believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities (Leiserowitz et al. 2011), which is slightly higher than the 2012 PEW survey reporting that 42 percent of Americans believe global warming is mostly caused by human activity. These contrast slightly with the 2012 Gallup poll which reported that 53 percent of Americans believe the increase in earth’s temperature over the last century is due to human activities (Saad 2012). These surveys show that close to two-thirds of Americans believe the earth is warming, and that roughly half of Americans believe the warming to be human-induced.

    Climate Data for Western North Carolina
    The purpose of the preceding literature review was to provide a general outline on the current scientific understanding of global climate change—but as previously mentioned, specific effects of climate change vary across geographic locations. Prior to entering the research site for data collection, I analyzed the local precipitation and temperature data collected by the National Climatic Data Center for climate Division One in North Carolina. Data from climate Division One is aggregated from all stations in the area, which is comprised of the western-most portion of the state where the research participants were located. Monthly data from 1895 through 2011 was obtained (NOAA 2012), organized into four 30 year periods , and analyzed for trends.
    With this data I was able to note some general climatic changes. The mean annual precipitation during the current thirty year period is less than the first thirty year period by an inch and a half, down from 55.67 inches per year to 53.98. Perhaps more important than this slight decrease in precipitation, though, is the shifting patterns of monthly precipitation. Over the past 116 years it appears precipitation is shifting away from July and August, the months that were previously among the wettest, toward September and November, the months that were previously among the driest. In general, precipitation in western North Carolina seems to be more evenly dispersed throughout the year than it once was (Figure 1).
    Temperature patterns over time appear to have undergone similar changes as precipitation, with a slight overall trend that becomes more obvious in certain months of the year. A mean annual temperature of 54.99 ?F during 1895-1924 has increased to 55.60 ?F for 1985 to 2012. Again, certain months such as April and November show more dramatic trends of increasing temperatures than others (Figures 2 and 3). Although these changes are significant, probably the most revealing evidence supporting anthropogenic climate change is shown in Figure 4, where every mean monthly temperature from the current thirty year period is warmer than the mean monthly temperature from the previous thirty year period. This across-the board temperature increase is slight but it indicates the temperature trends climate scientists expect. Year-round temperature increases with spring and fall showing the greatest changes, coupled with a redistribution of precipitation, can have major effects on apple production in western North Carolina.

    B. Agriculture and Diversity
    The more we study the history of the earth and its past climatic variability we become fairly confident that the earth itself will endure. We cannot say the same about the species that inhabit the planet.  To put this in perspective, one analogy says that at midnight on January 1 of a “cosmic year” the earth was formed. Right now it is midnight exactly one year later, and it was not until about 8:27 pm of this evening (December 31) that human beings first appeared (Aguado and Burt 2013). Humans may be taking the old saying of “bring the house down” a bit too literally on this “cosmic” New Year’s Eve because it is highly unlikely that any other previous earthly life forms have so drastically altered their environment in such a short time span and survived to tell about it. John Bodley describes how the past 100,000 years of socio-cultural system transformations have crossed thresholds to greater complexity but have decreased in longevity: “The more than 50,000-year duration of the tribal world was an order of magnitude longer than the 6,000-year duration of the pre-capitalist imperial world. The commercial world has lasted only a few centuries, but in the past 150 years it has caused unprecedented biosphere degradation” (2008:31).
    Anthropologist Ben Orlove suggests that the physical evolution of our human ancestors may be partly due to the requirement to adapt to the more variable climate experienced during the Pleistocene. During that era of extreme climate variability, early human ancestors developed adaptive strategies such as tool-use to ensure their survival. Later, the more stable climate of the Holocene is what allowed the development of agriculture and urban civilization (2005). Acknowledging the comparatively mild climate modern humans are accustomed to, Lester Brown warns:
    Agriculture as it exists today has evolved over 11,000 years of rather remarkable climate stability. As a result, world agriculture has evolved to maximize productivity within this climatic regime. With the earth’s climate changing, agriculture will increasingly be out of sync with the climate system that shaped it. (2011:47)
    To tie this together, past human cultures have successfully adapted to climate variability, though these populations and the changes they were adapting to were on a much smaller scale. The current rate of climate change is more drastic than ever before, threatening contemporary complex global systems that sustain an exponentially increasing global population. The following will provide a brief overview of the current agricultural world system and the threats climate change pose to it, then point toward ways to create a more sustainable system with an emphasis on the importance of diversity.

    Threats to Agricultural Production
    Current global agricultural practices and production systems used to feed the growing population, known as industrialized agriculture, is by no means a sustainable system. Climate change will only intensify the problems with this current system. Modern agriculture requires an enormous amount of water— roughly 70 percent of worldwide water-use is for agricultural irrigation (Brown 2011). It also requires enormous amounts of chemical inputs which pollute surrounding ecosystems and waterways, and intensive tillage reduces organic soil matter. Modern agriculture also relies on large amounts of finite natural fossil fuel resources to operate machinery, contributing to the increased greenhouse gas emissions that are proven to cause climate change. In addition, industrialized agriculture has directly influenced the world-wide loss of agricultural biodiversity (Kotschi 2007) by promoting the large-scale use of high-performance hybrid staple and commercial crops, narrowing the genetic base of cultivated plants and leading to the loss of many traditional crops (Nazarea 2005).
    The practice of the large-scale cultivation of a single crop is referred to as monocropping and is leading to genetic uniformity. The FAO (1998) has documented how roughly 30 crops provide 90 percent of the world’s calorie intake. Furthermore, wheat (Triticum), rice (Oryza), and maize (Zea mays) alone provide over 50 percent of global plant-derived energy intake (1998). In addition to the declining number of plant species being grown in agriculture, plant breeding and commercial seed modification has reduced genetic diversity within individual species (Kotschi 2010). Examples of crop devastation in agricultural systems that have narrow genetic bases are frightening, such as the case of a blight infestation wiping out half the corn crop in the U.S. South (Rhoades 1991). It was also a blight infestation that caused the infamous Irish potatofamine in the 1840s, which again, would have been much less devastating had there been greater genetic diversity in their fields (Rhoades and Nazarea 1999). It is important to note that the world’s food supply currently relies on a system that promotes monocropping and genetic erosion. Climate change threatens its adaptive capacity and has the potential for serious consequences on the global food supply.
    The most obvious threat to agriculture is the increase in temperatures during the growing season. As is evident from the summer 2012 heat wave in the U.S. Midwest, grain yields drop when temperatures climb above an optimal level. For every one degree Celsius rise in temperature above normal you can expect a ten percent decline in grain yields (Brown 2011). Most staple crops are especially vulnerable to heat stress during pollination. It has also been proven that excessive heat can stop photosynthetic activity entirely (Brown 2011). Additionally, as it gets warmer, researchers warn that as evaporation from soils increases, the decomposition of organic matter may accelerate, creating changes not only in soil composition but in weeds, pests, and diseases as well (Kotschi 2007, FAO 2007). A slow rate of increasing temperatures could allow crops to naturally adapt, but some projections of the future temperature increases in certain places show rates to be too quick for natural adaptation (Kotschi 2007).
    Other major threats to agricultural systems are related to changes in the water supply. In general, wet places are projected to get wetter and dry places drier, with the patterns of precipitation becoming more irregular (IPCC 2007b). This can lead to crop-devastating droughts or floods. Additionally, as the oceans warm and sea level rises, coastal areas will be at increased risk for flooding and for damaging tropical storms. Increases of these sorts of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and heat waves will have negative effects on the food supply. A September 2012 OXFAM International report on climate change and the global food supply details how extremes in food prices will accompany the extremes in weather events. The study predicts these sorts of events will create shortages, destabilize markets, and lead to food price spikes (Carty 2012). The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Division anticipates multiple socio-economic impacts of food insecurity, such as reduced marginal GDP from agriculture, fluctuations in world market prices, changes in trade regimes, increasing numbers of people at risk of hunger, and civil unrest (2007).

    Agricultural Sustainability and Diversity
    John Bodley (2008) attributes the general environmental crisis we are facing to overconsumption, the disruption of natural cycles, and the simplification of ecosystems. He then demonstrates how all three of these disruptive activities are found in our current agricultural system:
    Simplification of ecosystems is best exemplified by the industrial factory farm that attempts to remove all but one or two “desirable” species. This process greatly lowers the biological productivity and stability of an ecosystem and can be maintained only at enormous cost in imported energy and by increased use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which in turn deplete nonrenewable resources and disrupt natural cycles. (2008:51)
    While it is true that some documented increases in agricultural productivity can be attributed to using high-yielding varieties, irrigation, and chemical inputs, the detrimental costs to human health, environmental quality, and biodiversity are becoming increasingly recognized and concerning as we face major climatic change (Jackson et al 2007). Because of the complexity of these problems and our dependence on the industrial system for our global food supply, not only do we need to mitigate climate change by taking action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the global agricultural system, but we also need to enhance agroecosystem capacity to adapt to changes in growing conditions (Kotschi 2007).
    Very generally, adaptation is the process of a plant, animal, or ecosystem adjusting to changes and overcoming constraints by taking advantage of new opportunities and coping with the consequences of change (Kotschi 2007). FAO’s 2007 report recommends a number of issues to account for in agroecosystems, first of which is the careful selection of locally-adapted crops with resistance to adverse conditions, and considering seasonal changes in sowing dates. They also recommend low-tillage for permanent soil cover to increase organic soil matter and mitigate the effects of floods, droughts, and erosion. In addition, they recommend responsible water resource management and organic agricultural methods.
    It was not until recently that discussions about adapting agricultural systems to climate change began to address agricultural biodiversity, or agrobiodiversity. A major point made in the 2007 FAO report and being continually reported by others is that genetically diverse populations and ecosystems have increased resilience and greater potential to adapt to climate change (see Kotschi 2007, 2010; Jackson et al 2007; Frison et al 2011). Many researchers also note that ecosystems with more species and more genetic diversity within species often have higher productivity than simpler systems (Frison et al 2011). This line of thinking can be traced back to Darwin himself, where he wrote in The Origin of Species, “It has been experimentally proved that if a plot of ground be sown with one species of grass, and a similar plot be sown with several distinct genera of grasses, a greater number of plants and a greater weight of dry herbage can thus be raised” (1985:185).
    Agrobiodiversity exists at multiple levels including the greater ecosystem where people raise crops, the different varieties and breeds of the crop species, and the genetic variability within each variety or breed (Frison et al 2011). Maintaining a high volume of diversity at all of these levels is beneficial for multiple reasons, and is often referred to as in-situ or on-farm conservation (Nazarea 2005; Kotschi 2007). In contrast with ex-situ conservation strategies which preserve genetic diversity in seed banks, in-situ conservation places the species in the environment and allows it to adapt to the changing environment. Although ex-situ conservation is important, only in-situ conservation allows species to go through the process of adaptation and develop resistance to environmental stresses.
    The various benefits of maintaining a high level of agrobiodiversity begin with the old “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” conventional wisdom. Returning to the Irish potato famine, over one million Irish perished because of their over-reliance on two closely related potato varieties (Solanum tuberosum) that were susceptible to late blight (Phytophthora infestans), a disease that is thought to have originated in South America. Farmers in South America have never had such devastation, though, which they probably owe to the fact that the 6-10,000 potato varieties traditionally grown in the area act as a buffer from crisis and give them a much higher probability that some are resistant to late blight (Veteto 2008). This is a prime example of why the maintenance of diversity within a species is essential for food security, but maintaining a diversity of species is also important in mitigating pest, disease, and weather changes. Plant genes contain unique traits such as drought tolerance or resistance to diseases like late blight, and the loss of these genes, called genetic erosion, weakens our ability to ensure global food security and adaptation to climate change (Kotschi 2010). With a large amount of intra and inter species diversity to choose from, farmers are able to select and diffuse varieties with beneficial characteristics, such as crops with specific genes for higher yield or pest resistance.
    Due to the domination of modern hybrid and genetically modified crops in our supermarkets and factory-farm fields, it’s important to distinguish these modern varieties from traditional varieties. Traditionally, seeds from a farmer’s best plants were selected to produce the next year’s seed supply. The continual act of saving these prized seeds and growing them from year to year, generation to generation, allows the plants to develop a resistance to local diseases and insects as well as adapt to the local climate and conditions. Seeds that are saved and shared in this way, usually over a long period of time, are considered an heirloom variety (Ashworth 2002). Thousands of these old-timey, regionally adapted food crops in the U.S. are at risk of being lost due to societal changes and a shift toward the modern agricultural system. At risk of being lost is not only the genetic diversity these heirloom crops contain, but also the cultural traditions tied to these crops.
    Apples are no exception to the rapid loss of heirloom food crop varieties in the U.S. Modern apple varieties are being bred in agricultural research stations, universities and nurseries across the nation for characteristics that allow them to be sold at supermarkets. These apple varieties are bred for aesthetic beauty, long storage, and sweet flavor for fresh-eating. The leading authority on apples in the American South, Creighton Lee Calhoun Jr., estimates that eighty percent of apples bought today are eaten fresh. That is opposite from the apple market one hundred years ago. In that time, most apples were used for cooking, drying, cider, and vinegar, with only a small percentage being used for fresh-eating (2010). Calhoun’s research has shown that about eighty percent of all documented old-timey southern apples are now extinct, much like all traditional food crops in the U.S.
    Not only does biodiversity act as a buffer to potential crop devastation but there are also a number of ways increased agrobiodiversity can enhance ecosystem functioning. This is most likely to happen through the addition of unique or complimentary effects to the agroecosystem, through techniques such as intercropping or using cover crops (Jackson et al 2007). Recognizing the expansion of agricultural land as one of the greatest threats to natural biodiversity, a Millenium Ecosystem Assessment report advises how the maintenance of biodiversity within the surrounding agricultural area is not only an important conservation effort, but it “can also contribute to agricultural productivity and sustainability through the ecosystem services that biodiversity provides (such as through pest control, pollination, soil fertility, protection of water courses against soil erosion, and the removal of excessive nutrients)” (2005:13). A species-rich system is also more likely to survive invasions by non-native species, which is an important trait in an increasingly globalized world. In addition, agroecosystems with high levels of diversity may also attract more beneficial insects and pollinators (MEA 2005). Conversely, there are a number of ways it is possible to utilize agrobiodiversity for pest control, such as insectary strips of trap crops that provide a habitat for natural enemies of pests (Jackson et al 2007).
    In spite of the scientific consensus on climate change, the threat it poses to our current agricultural system and the importance of agrobiodiversity, there is no denying the immense difficulty of attaining agricultural sustainability. As the topic continues to gain more needed attention by researchers and citizens alike, it becomes increasingly clear that collaboration is necessary to make any progress. Not only is interdisciplinary research of upmost importance, but so is the need to learn from the experiences of farmers and local populations. The IPCC report on managing the risks of extreme weather events agrees, saying the “Integration of local knowledge with additional scientific and technical knowledge can improve disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation” (2012:15).

    C. Anthropological Contributions to Climate Change Studies
    Climate change is a global phenomenon with localized effects. No other research discipline is better suited to analyze local populations’ perceptions of climate change and bridge the gap between local and scientific knowledge than anthropology. As climate change issues impact local life across the world, anthropologists’ interest in the issue is growing exponentially. There are a variety of subfields within the discipline that are addressing different aspects of climate change, many of which are important to this research. The following review of anthropological work will discuss case studies and important contributions to culture and climate change studies, agricultural anthropology, and ethnoecology as they relate to this project.

    Culture and Climate Change
    A topic largely ignored by anthropologists until the 1990s, climate change has grown to become a major current issue with anthropologists from all subfields and specialties. Personal observations of posts to the environmental anthropology e-mail listerv over the past few years show the topic of climate change discussed more than any other.  Carla Roncoli, Todd Crane, and Ben Orlove are three leading anthropologists in climate research, and they attribute the growing interest in climate change to the following: irreversible impacts due to climate change are occurring to the people and places anthropologists have traditionally been studying, there is a growing awareness of the importance of researching the human dimensions of climate change, and the recognition of opportunities to participate in interdisciplinary climate change research (2009). Susan Crate’s review of contemporary anthropological engagements in climate and culture divides the research into two general areas—place-based community research, and global negotiations and discourses. More relevant for this practicum project is work under Crate’s first domain, “the documentation of how place-based peoples observe, perceive, and respond to the local effects of global climate change” (2011:179).
    Because climate change has traditionally been a field dominated by climate scientists with quantitative methods of research and global scales of analysis, anthropologists have realized their potential to complement this work with localized scales of analysis that are able to address the complexities of human-climate interactions (Magistro and Roncoli 2001). Anthropologists’ use of participant observation and other ethnographic research methods is beneficial for gaining insight into how people perceive climate change through cultural lenses, how they comprehend what they see, how they give value to what they know, and how they respond based on these meanings and values. With this ability to focus on how culture frames the way individuals “perceive, understand, experience, and respond” to features of their world, anthropologists are uniquely suited to study localized climate change issues (Roncoli et al. 2009:87).
    There have been a number of anthropological studies that analyze local perceptions of climate change. Pertinent case studies include Anja Byg and Jan Salick’s research with Tibetan villagers (2009), which show the spiritual and moral aspects villagers attach to climate change but also their ability to accept other explanatory models. Byg and Salick reported that local observations of climate change generally agreed with scientific climate data, however their causal explanations varied greatly from material to spiritual causes— similar to my findings to be discussed later. Neeraj Vedwan’s (2006) study of local knowledge and its connection to climate change perceptions among apple growers in the mountains of northwest India is highly relevant to my research, as he demonstrates the way traditional environmental relationships and local knowledge of crop-climate linkages shape their perceptions. The key aspect to understanding perceptions of climate change, Vedwan reports, is the risk and vulnerability inherent in mountain agriculture. Local farmers rely on a range of mountain specificities and are very observant of any changes in these niches.
    In Crate’s description of contemporary climate and culture studies, she describes four different foci of place-based community research. Ethnoclimatology is the study of traditional weather pattern predictions in the context of climate change. Studies of resiliency—the second foci—provide insight into how people’s cultural factors play a large role in their adaptive success. The third foci is the physical and sociocultural levels of disaster and displacement, and the fourth is the study of resource management (Crate 2011). Because of relevance to this project’s research goal, further exploration into the topic of resilience will be useful.
    The term resilience is most commonly defined as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and re-organize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks” (Folke 2006:259). There has been a lot written in ecology on ecosystem resilience while anthropologists have focused their attention on cultural resilience. The more recent integration of the two fields to focus on resilience in social-ecological systems incorporates the notions of adaptation, learning and self-organization, in addition to the basic concept of absorbing disturbance (Folke 2006). A new focus on social-ecological system resilience is due in part because the use of biophysical models to predict ecosystem resilience ignores or downplays the importance of social behaviors in social-ecological resilience. Traditional focus on technologies and large-scale solutions to problems posed by climate change overlook the important role that individuals and cultural values play in adaptation (Nelson et al. 2009). It is important to remember that socially constructed meanings create the frameworks through which possible adaptive pathways are analyzed, evaluated, and prioritized (Crane 2010). The topic of human agency in adaptive strategies is especially important when applied to the context of agriculture, and will be returned to after an introduction to agricultural anthropology.

    Agricultural Anthropology
    Though agriculture is a human activity of central importance to a wide diversity of cultural traditions, it was not until the late-1970s that the field of agricultural anthropology became recognized and accepted as a sub-discipline. Anthropological involvement in agriculture had largely gone unnoticed prior to this time. One of the key figures in developing the sub-discipline was Robert Rhoades, who defined it as “the comparative, holistic, and temporal study of the human element in agricultural activity, focusing on the interactions of environment, technology, and culture within local and global food systems” (Rhoades 2005:62). Current involvement in agricultural anthropology has evolved to span a wide range of topics and is conducted under multiple related sub-disciplines. Due to a growing recognition that not only the effects of global climate change vary from region to region but so do cultural interpretations and adaptive responses, there has been an increasing number of anthropologists studying farmer adaptations to climate change.
    The work of anthropologist John W. Bennett preceded this interest in farmer adaptation, and while not directly focused on climate change, is significant for research regarding adaptive strategies and sustainability. In his work with U.S. Midwestern Plains farmers, Bennett utilized the concepts of farmer management style and strategy to explain adaptive responses (1969). In this work and others he focused on the process of achieving sustainability in what he called “socionatural” systems— complex systems where physical resources, animal species and human activities interact (1996). Similarly, Paul Richards coined the phrase “agriculture as performance” to convey the human agency involved in the act of agriculture (1989). This perspective views farmers’ activities as being influenced by and reacting to the surrounding social and ecological situations, and it accounts for field-level activities in reaction to weather events as well as gradual shifts in production due to long-term ecologies and cultural histories. Farmers need to be viewed as “innovators, creative technical actors, and socio-cultural actors” in unique and complex socio-ecological systems (Crane et al. 2011:179). This perspective is especially important as modeling technologies are increasingly depended upon for predictions about climate and agroecological systems. These models fail to account for adaptive processes which are social phenomena that extend beyond changing climate conditions (Crane et al. 2011). Viewing farmers as active innovators rather than passive victims to changing conditions is a central aspect of this practicum project.
    Research in social-ecological resilience is useful for this project because it shows how important the cultural context is when studying farmer’s adaptive responses to climate change. Crane studied two agropastoralist societies in central Mali (2010), showing the importance of integrating cultural institutions and values into building resilient and adaptive systems. In the northern Great Plains of the U.S., Tori Jennings similarly showed the usefulness of exploring localized responses to global climate change (2002), and Roncoli’s work continues to address issues of local knowledge and adaptation to climate change in Burkina Faso (Roncoli et al. 2001; Roncoli 2006; Roncoli et al. 2009, etc). This practicum project benefits from all of these works that stress local cultural contexts as an important component in agricultural resilience and adaptation to climate change.
    Research in agricultural anthropology has an inherently applied nature, having “the practical goal of responsibly applying this knowledge to improve the efficiency and sustainability of food and fiber production” (Rhoades 2005:62). In the context of contemporary climate change, this means using the perspectives and methods of anthropology to study and promote sustainable agricultural practices. Robert Netting was another key figure in the development of agricultural anthropology, and he focused a large amount of work on analyzing the sustainability of smallholder agriculture versus modern industrial agriculture. Using a definition which described a more sustainable agriculture to be one that is relatively more conservative of natural resources, more economically profitable for the farmer and society, and where access to resources and benefits are equally shared by all— including men, women, minorities, and the poor (Cleveland 1998), he opposes the “exclusive application of an industrial model to agriculture because of its technical rigidity, its capital costs and labor savings, its energy inefficiency, its tendency to degrade natural resources, and its separation of ownership, management, and labor” (Netting 1993:320). Recognizing that sustainable agriculture is a human necessity, Cleveland also notes that it is a cultural construct whose achievement is dependent on a greater understanding of the relationship between particular agricultural systems and their environment, humans’ perceptions of this relationship, and how these perceptions affect values, knowledge, and behavior (1998). This notion gives importance to studying traditional agricultural systems and promoting locally-specific adaptations to climate change.

    Ethnoecology
    Intimately related to agricultural anthropology and of great importance to this project is the sub-field of ethnoecology. Virginia Nazarea, one of the field’s most well-known proponents, describes it as “a way of looking at the relationship between humans and the natural world that emphasizes the role of cognition in framing behavior” (1999:vii), and as a discipline she describes it as the “investigation of systems of perception, cognition, and the use of the natural environment” (1999: 8-9). The field has undergone a long evolution dating back to Harold Conklin’s work with the Hanunòo in the 1950s, but has essentially kept its focus on local knowledge, perceptions, and classifications of the environment. It has been an important advocate of traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) which is significant for this project because of its application to the conservation of biodiversity and its potential to help adapt local agricultural systems to climate change.
    Consistent with agricultural anthropology’s practical goal of applying its knowledge to facilitate positive change in a system, ethnoecology and the study of traditional environmental knowledge has potential to link categories with action plans and environmental perception with resource management practices (Nazarea 2006). In a study on climate change in the Ecuadorian Andes, Rhoades articulates the point that local knowledge is essential for climate change adaptation, saying:
    Our assumption is that by understanding local people’s awareness of weather and climatic change, we can also understand better their decision making and local adaptations to global change…Logically, farmers’ local knowledge forms the basis of decision making and it should be incorporated into any strategy meant to mitigate the impact of climate change. (2008:47)
    With its focus on perceptions and use of the natural environment, ethnoecology allows researchers to understand and incorporate traditional knowledge into adaptive strategies. Researchers in this context need to be careful not to reproduce the artificial division between TEK and scientific knowledge and remember that all knowledge is socially constructed. When properly handled, community-based research with indigenous groups has proven the effectiveness of integrating different sources of climate change knowledge for the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies (Peterson and Broad 2009).
    Ethnoecology and its study of local knowledge can be highly beneficial for the conservation of biodiversity. Local knowledge serves as a repository for alternative choices that keep cultural and biological diversity alive (Nazarea 2006). Furthermore, recent ethnoecological studies of crop diversity in western North Carolina show high levels of agrobiodiversity due to material conditions and cultural preferences (Veteto 2008, 2010, 2012; Veteto et al. 2011). Because of globalization, local ethnoecologies in Appalachia and elsewhere are being challenged, transformed, and replaced with two modern ethnoecologies: environmentalism and developmentalism. Environmentalism is the general concern with the depletion of natural resources and has grown from an opposition to developmentalism, which was born out of the ideals of industrialism, progress, and consumption (Kottak 2006). At the intersection of these three ethnoecologies comes the new ethnoecological model of sustainable development, created to mediate between them and produce “culturally appropriate, ecologically sensitive, self-regenerating change” (Kottak 2006:43).
    It is essentially at this intersection, in the use of the ethnoecological model of sustainable development, where Paul Sillitoe describes the number of ways the fields of ethnobiology (or in our case, ethnoecology) and applied anthropology can unite. He describes these two fields as traditionally illustrating the ‘pure’ and the ‘practical,’ and a fusion of the two produces an applied environmental anthropology that works bottom-up in studying TEK systems and how they connect to increasing scales and complexity. Among others, Sillitoe suggests productive avenues for this fusion through facilitating indigenous use of scientific knowledge or the scientific use of indigenous knowledge in the development setting (2006).  This sort of knowledge exchange is useful for the conservation of biodiversity and the development of sustainable agriculture. Sillitoe warns, though, that engagement with development and specifically the empowering of local communities to use their traditional knowledge in development creates political confrontations:
    Involvement in the promotion of such counter-development implies engagement in global politics. The problem is making alternative views heard. Current global political arrangements make this doubtful, and, even if heard, they may be construed by the powerful as inimical to the world order. (2006:135)
    Evaluating the political environment of the local and global context is an important aspect of achieving sustainable development. Political context not only creates a difficult setting for alternative views to be heard, but it also shapes local knowledge and a perception of what is important and desirable. The field of political ecology would be a useful field for incorporating the political context, though it is outside the scope of this research project.

    D. Research Site Context
    Now that an overview has been presented on the intersection of climate change, agriculture, and anthropology, it is necessary to describe the ecological and social setting where this research was conducted. The generally accepted geographical boundary definition of southern Appalachia continues to shift over time—once consisting of 254 counties in nine states, then 190 counties in seven states, and more recently 152 counties in eight states (Davis 2000). In the western area of the region lies the Cumberland Plateau which contains a series of high mountain plateaus that subdivide into hundreds of smaller plateaus. East of this is the Ridge and Valley physiographic province, comprised of parallel ridges stretching for almost a hundred miles. Finally, the far eastern region of the southern Appalachian Mountains contains the Blue Ridge Mountains which are the highest in the eastern United States (Davis 2000). They stretch from southern Virginia at the New River divide down to northern Georgia, blanketing the westernmost region of North Carolina (Gragson and Bolstad 2006). The apple orchardists who participated in this research project reside throughout ten counties in the western North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a region well-suited for growing apples (shown in Figures 5 and 6).
    The Blue Ridge Belt is as narrow as ten to sixteen miles wide in Virginia, but widens to form a high plateau seventy miles across in western North Carolina. This plateau contains Mount Mitchell at 6,684 feet in elevation, the highest point in the eastern United States, but tapers down to around three thousand feet as it goes south (Beaver 1984). As a result of regional changes in elevation, topography, and thermal belts; variation in rainfall, temperature, and vegetation create a diverse ecological landscape. Temperatures are warmer in the lower regions, precipitation averages an abundant 1,600 mm a year with typically more in higher elevations, and microclimates with related soil types vary greatly from ridge tops to lower stream valleys. Though predominately a temperate deciduous forest, varying ecological characteristics allow the region to contain both northern and southern taxa resulting in one of the most biodiverse regions in North America (Gragson et al. 2008).
    The sociocultural history of the southern Appalachians is long and complicated but is important background information for this research, especially as it relates to agriculture. The earliest residents of the region were Native American groups who inhabited the region for approximately four thousand years—predominately in the historical period by the Cherokee. Europeans began to make expeditions through the mountains as early as 1540 when Hernando de Soto and other Spaniards came in search for gold (Beaver 1984). Soon the French and British followed, and through the overexploitation of fur and wild game the Cherokee and early settlers became more dependent on agriculture. Through the 1800s the population was a mixture of Cherokees, Europeans, and Africans who developed a way of life based on subsistence agriculture, but the federal government authorized the removal of most of the remaining Cherokee to western lands by the end of the 1830’s. Not long after, mining for lead, salt, gold, oil, gas, and coal accompanied logging as booming industries bringing rapid population increases and changes (Lewis 1984). Today coal mining is still the dominant industry in many parts of Appalachia, which has played a key role in the cultural identity for many families.
    Early populations in the southern Appalachian Mountains included the Cherokee, Scots-Irish, German, English, and Scandinavian groups who all brought with them unique agricultural traditions. Many of these traditions borrowed or adopted various methods and crops from one-another and the area remained mostly small and subsistence-oriented farms. In fact, in 1880, Appalachia had a greater concentration of noncommercial family farms than anywhere else in the U.S. (Veteto 2008). This small scale farming system coupled with specific mountain ecosystem characteristics allowed local farms to breed particular varieties of crops and make Southern Appalachia a region especially rich in agrobiodiversity (Davis 2000). As recently as 2000, however, studies show less than two percent of the population listed agriculture as their primary occupation (Gragson and Bolsted 2006). Fortunately, contemporary studies in the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding Appalachians have confirmed that the area has maintained a high level of crop diversity relative to other southern regions, most likely due to the combination of geographic and commercial isolation, difficult and diverse growing conditions, and especially the importance of local crop varieties to Appalachian cultural identity (Veteto 2008, 2010, Veteto et al. 2011, Veteto 2012).
    It presently appears that apple growing has followed this same pattern of declining as an occupation yet still maintaining its high levels of traditional diversity. While there are hundreds of southern apple varieties that have been lost and may never be found, central and southern Appalachia is still one of the most apple diverse regions in North America (Veteto et al. 2011). Apple production in North Carolina during the 1980s produced an average of 308 million pounds per year, which decreased by almost thirty percent during 1990s, and again decreased by thirty percent during the 2000s (USDA 2011). During these same time periods North Carolina’s yield per apple bearing area stayed roughly the same, leading to the conclusion that the productivity has not declined, but the number of farms has.
    Although many orchards in western North Carolina date back over one to two hundred years, it was not until the mid-1900s that the number of orchards increased dramatically. The Blue Ridge Apple Growers Association was formed in 1936 and continues to be a major organization today (Blue Ridge Farm Direct Market Association 2013). Stemming from a realization that the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina contained excellent apple growing conditions, demand for wholesale, fresh-market, processing, and juice apples grew exponentially. Packing houses began popping up all over the region, and from the 1940s through the 1970s the apple industry was booming. Major companies such as Gerber, Seneca, National Fruit Company, and Musselmans opened up processing plants and as the industry expanded, apples became a part of many communities’ cultural identity. Strolling through such an apple growing community you would commonly see the word ‘apple’ or a picture of an apple on a sign out front of a local business such as restaurants, hotels, car dealerships, and real estate agents. In 1947, the first North Carolina Apple Festival was held, and 66 years later it is still a major annual event in western North Carolina (Blue Ridge Farm Direct Market Association 2013). Though apples are still a prominent cultural symbol in the area, the industry has changed dramatically over this time. At its height in 1976 there were 328 orchards in North Carolina and by 2006 there were only 117. Processing plants shut down, apple growing land was lost to urban sprawl, technological innovations were made, international competition drove prices down, and as the apple industry changed, many producers were bought up or put out of business (Blue Ridge Farm Direct Market Association 2013).

    Project objectives:

    1. Determine what climactic changes orchard managers have observed and experienced, and what changes they anticipate for the future.
    2. Determine what strategies orchard managers are using in response to these observations, and evaluate the effects these changes have on the orchard systems and local apple diversity.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.