Pennsylvania Regional Organic Fruit Industry Transition
This project was initiated by a grower mandate for organic transition that was initiated on November 12, 2003 where the Executive Board of the The State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania (SHAP), developed a directive to Dr. James W. Travis and Penn State University which states, “The Board of Directors of SHAP has to develop a task force to further explore the “vision” of transitioning our industry toward alternative pest management technologies with the ultimate objective of achieving “Organic” production methods for fruit in our region. This task force should include (grower) representatives from SHAP, the various fruit (science) disciplines, Ag Extension, and any other sector that you feel would be beneficial to the discussion”. With this directive, the Pennsylvania Regional Organic Fruit Industry Transition (PROFIT) was initiated, thus this project seeks to improve the sustainability and profitability of small family apple farms through the implementation of sustainable and organic production practices and by differentiating apple products as certified organic. Key components include:
• The transition to organic production of three demonstration/research orchards managed by an ‘Orchard Management Transition Team’ on a grower farm utilizing the sites as case studies.
• The ‘Orchard Management Transition Team’ which is made up of local conventional IPM growers, experienced organic growers, the apple processor, university researchers and extension educators will direct the transition practices utilizing seasonal pest and production results, production options, economic factors and grower discussions.
• Growers will implement an educational model for networking and information sharing among the fruit growing industry and the ‘Orchard Management Transition Team’.
• Milestones: Five hundred tree fruit growers will learn of the orchard transition project in year one. In year one, 250 growers will inquire about sustainable and organic practices accessing multiple information delivery tools developed by the project, 150 growers will participate in on-farm case study discussions. By year two, 150 will increase implementation of sustainable practices and 15 will begin transition to organic.
Of the 500 potential apples grower beneficiaries, 250 fresh and processing apple growers will increase their use of sustainable pest management and production methods and 30 will transition a portion or their entire farm.
1) Outreach and Extension Efforts: Various outreach and extension activities were accomplished with over 500 growers participating in Pennsylvania by undertaking the following activities: a) grower discussions, grower education which included field days in September 9, 2008, and various group of visitors from India, Japan, local community people and youth Agricultural Explorers summer campers held on 4 June, 5 Aug, 14 Sep and 26 September, respectively at the PSU Fruit Research & Extension Center, Biglerville, PA with 350 growers, researchers, extension educators, administrators, students and crop consultants participating. The Sept 9 crop protection field day was a full day sessions on insect, disease and weed management, training and fruit thinning. Approximately 350 growers from 4 Mid-Atlantic States were also introduced to organic apple production at a Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable convention held in Hershey, PA in February of 2008, 80 Michigan growers heard about the organic apple project goals and accomplishments at Michigan pest management conference. Additionally, team members participated in 10 national and international conference presentations and other educational meetings throughout the year; c) monthly discussion meetings were held during the 2008 growing season to assist grower’s in-transition and planning for organic apple production.
2) Organic apple orchards for case studies: a) Organic apple demonstration orchard, 2 acre (Acre) planted in 2004 with two resistant scab cultivars ‘GoldRush’ and ’Enterprise’, b) 1 A organic apple orchard with 2 scab resistant cultivars GoldRush and Crispin Crisp was established to demonstrate the viability of a high density orchard, c) Commercial organic apple orchard (5 A) in Lancaster county, PA planted in 2005 and additional 5 A planted in 2008. One of the first commercial 5 acre apple orchards received organic certification in September 2008 harvest season, and d) A mature apple orchard (30 A) in Adams county, PA of scab susceptible cultivars received its organic certification in September 2008 harvest, e) 5 A apple orchard in Adams County was established in 2008 for organic cider.
3) Growers learned about the project PROFIT in a) PSU website where the activities of the PROFIT project were posted at http://fpath.cas.psu.edu/EXTENSION, 2) Penn State Sustainable Ag Working Group website at http://sawg.cas.psu.edu/Projects.html;
In 2008, the Management Team directed the project expanded to also emphasize fresh organic apple production for local market outlets in nearby urban areas like Philadelphia and Washington DC where the demand for locally grown organic fruit is high but the supply is limited.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
During this year, organic production discussion sessions were held in conjunction with, field days, orchard visits and extended technical and consultative services in organic pest management and cultural practices, certification process and marketing organic fruit to growers that were interested to establish a new organic orchard or transition a conventional orchard to organic production.
Future of PROFIT task force and initiative:
a. Continuing support from SHAP Exec Board complimenting the success of PROFIT and advising the project to continue to develop organic apple production for the region.
b. The PROFIT Task Force serves as the management team and met in November 2008 to discuss accomplishments and future direction for 2009. There was agreement to focus on advancing new organic practices, marketing, economics, long-term orchard sustainability, continue support of grower transition to organic.
c. The first 40 A of new PA grower organic apple orchards were certified organic in 2008 harvest season.
d. Approximately 50 A are in transition or being planned which will assist the project in meeting its performance goals by the completion of the project.
e. The number of growers considering organic is increasing each year and IPM growers continue to increase the implementation of organic practices.
Associate Professor of Pomology
Penn State University Fruit Research and Extension
290 University Drive
P. O. Box 330
Biglerville , PA 17307
Office Phone: 71767761167
Plant Pathology Research Associate
Penn State University Fruit Research & Extension
Biglerville, PA 17325
Office Phone: 7176776116
Penn State University Extension
670 Old Harrisburg Rd., Suite 204
Gettysburg, PA 17325