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Meeting the demand for organic apples

June 9, 2008  By The Canadian Press

June 9, 2008, Wolfville, N.S. –
When Miriam Ferrer heads to her local farmers’ market, she isn't
shopping – she's doing research.

June 9, 2008, Wolfville, N.S. – When Miriam Ferrer heads to her local farmers’ market, she isn't shopping – she's doing research.

For the past year, the biologist at Nova Scotia’s Acadia University has been testing local organic goods in a bid to find an all-natural way to encourage apple trees to produce more pesticide-free fruit.


Her research could prove to be especially lucrative for organic farmers growing Honeycrisp apples, a variety that consumers just can’t seem to get enough of.

The juicy, sweet Honeycrisps have been in high demand since they were introduced to the province about 10 years ago.

“The crispness of the apple seems to stimulate something in the consumer,” says farmer Doug Nichols, whose Apple Lane Orchards in the Annapolis Valley produced about 90,000 kilograms of organic apples last year.

“Once they’ve had a Honeycrisp, they want more.”

The seasonal supply of Honeycrisps typically sells out within two months, while it can take eight or nine months for other varieties to be depleted.

But apple growers have had a tough time keeping up with demand, mainly because the Honeycrisp tree is known for cycles of boom and bust.

The tree tends to use all of its energy to produce more than enough fruit in one year, leaving it sapped the next.

For organic farmers like Nichols, pesticides and other chemicals are off-limits.

“Some people perceive that organic means the amount of care is reduced, but in fact it’s actually more,” he says. “The tools you have to control insects and diseases are reduced.”

Ferrer says she met with one farmer who suggested she look into applying mayonnaise to the apple trees. The farmer said he didn’t know why mayonnaise seemed to help apples grow – it just did.

So Ferrer tested mayonnaise, along with 39 other natural products, on apple branches.

It didn’t make the trees grow more fruit, but Ferrer was surprised to find that apple seeds coated in mayonnaise seemed to grow more quickly.

Out of the 40 products tested, Ferrer says she got blue-ribbon results from five natural minerals, which she declined to name.

She’s currently testing to learn which concentrations will work best on the trees.

Ferrer says the minerals seemed to work as well as chemical treatments used on non-organic trees.

Nichols says Ferrer’s work, partly funded by the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association , has a lot of potential for the apple crop, which contributes about $50 million to the provincial economy each year.

According to ACORN , an organic farmers’ group in Atlantic Canada, local growers can't meet the surging demand for all types of organic apples.

Organic fruit sales in Atlantic Canada grew by 58 per cent between 2002 and 2003, according to the group’s most recent report, with shoppers buying about half a million dollars worth of organic apples in 2003.

Apples are the second-most popular organic fruit in the region, right behind bananas.

However, the majority of organic apples sold in the province are imported from places like the U.S., since local growers aren’t producing enough.

Ferrer says her research is aimed specifically at the Honeycrisp tree, but it could be effective on other varieties as well.

Nichols says her work could help increase the organic crop in the province across the board.

“It’s a key time for her research to apply,” he said.

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