Apples are an important component of New England’s diversified agriculture. Sustainable and profitable organic apple production in New England has been a long-existing goal of organic farming in the region. Many more apple growersare interested in producing organic apples than the small number of certified organic orchards reflect. The small number of certified organic orchards reflects, in part, the insect and horticultural challenges of organic apple production in the region and the disease challenges associated with the predominant cultivar grown in New England (i.e., ‘McIntosh’). Since recent shifts in consumer preference for ‘newer’ cultivars has led to the planting of different apple cultivars in the region which have different insect and disease susceptibility and recent research has identified potential alternatives for insect and horticultural obstacles to organic apple production, growers want to know what the potential is for sustainable and profitable organic production with the different cultivars now being planted in the region.
This project examines the opportunities and challenges of organic production within the two major orchard systems growers are using to change to new cultivars and with five of the top apple varieties that growers identified as important to the future of the industry. The long-term goal of this project is to enhance adoption of organic apple production in New England through holistic research that advances the scientific knowledge base and provides practical information to stakeholders.
1. Continue to evaluate ‘new’ apple cultivars and incorporate research-generated knowledge of apple ecosystem dynamics into organic production systems to determine sustainability and profitability.
2. Field test commonly recommended organic foliar nutrient sources and evaluate their impacts on fruit yield, quality, tree nutrition and health including impact on disease and arthropod pests.
3. Evaluate the benefits of different ground cover strategies in promoting tree health, plant and soil water status, and yield and fruit quality.
4. Continue to collaboratively develop and implement with stakeholders a multi-dimensional extension program that addresses their priorities and needs, enables whole farm planning, improves competitiveness, and enhances the ability of growers to grow and market high quality organic apples.