UVM farm developing organic apple production - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

UVM farm developing organic apple production

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"For eight years now we have been conducting certified organic apple research here at the farm," said Terry Bradshaw, a research specialist for the UVM Apple Team.

Those years of research have resulted in an organic apple orchard. The trees were planted just two years ago. It is called a tall spindle system. The trees are grown close together on a wire support system. The trees don't have to grow big trunks to hold them up, so they can put all their energy into producing fruit.

"Organic production is a very, very small part of not just Vermont orchards but really anything east of the Mississippi certainly less than one percent of the acreage and total value of the crop," Bradshaw said. "And there is always interest in it but it is tricky to do."

The UVM orchard was planted with eight varieties of fruit that are all naturally resistant to apple scab. They carry a gene from crab apples that makes them naturally resistant, so they don't have to be sprayed for that common disease. And without apple scab, they don't need to spray for some of the other pests that come along with that. But some other techniques are used to manage other pests present in the orchard.

By all accounts, Bradshaw says 2013 is a very successful year.

"But I expect a tree with this much fruit planted in the density that they are in this orchard, we probably have about 300 bushels per acre in here. The statewide average for a mature orchard is 375 and these are only two years old, so the production capacity of this orchard is just tremendous," he said.

Bradshaw says this work being done at the Hort farm will translate into systems that growers can use and be economically successful in growing organic apples. While people who grow apples of course are very interested in the work that Bradshaw and his crew are doing, there is another business that is extremely interested in the organic apple crop. The expanding hard cider market is interested in this type of growing system, not necessarily because it is organic, but because of the reduced production costs. These trees are much easier to pick, saving producers time and money.

"I know there is significant demand for hundreds of thousands of gallons of Vermont juice just to fill that market this year," Bradshaw said. "And these types of orchards can help meet that demand."

In the meantime, volunteers will help pick the apples so researchers can study the fruit and make plans for improving the crop for next year.

The public can buy apples from the UVM Horticulture Farm every Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Money raised helps support the farm.

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