Organic production at Bittner-Singer Orchards
We have never been a spray happy bunch. Like most farmers, we do all we can to use as few sprays as possible. We employ a consultant that scouts all our orchards every week, looking for pest issues that need to be addressed. It is referred to as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
Back in 1995, we converted some of our existing apple orchards to organic production. It was quite a leap since there was almost no organic apples being produced in the Eastern USA (there still are not very many). We did it because some customers were asking for organic and we thought it would be a neat experiment. With an a lot of help from our IPM consultant, researchers from Cornell University and others, we have learned a lot about how to grow apples without the use of synthetic products.
Most people do not realize that organic does not mean no spray. We can and have to use some natural products, they just can not be man made. Today we have 4 acres of certified organic apples. This acreage and the practices we use to produce the apples on those 4 acres are certified by NOFA NY Certified Organic.
So how do we produce organic apples? In our climate, we have a lot of insects and diseases that affect apples. When we determine that there is a pest problem that needs to be controlled, we can use the following products in organic production: Sulfur, Copper Hydroxide, Kaolin Clay, natural pyrethrin, horticulture oil, pheromone matting disruption, Cydia pomonella granulovirus, and spinosad. These are all natural products approved for organic production. For tree nutrition, we use compost that is approved for organic production. We also use most of these same products in our non organic (conventional) production of apples and stone fruit.
Certified organic apples are more risky and more expensive for us to grow. We grow them because some consumers are asking for them and we are able to test natural pest control practices. If these practices are successful, we then use them in our conventional orchards.
Even with all the scouting and attention we give the organic orchards, it is very difficult to grow defect free, good sized apples on a consistent basis. Some years we have a nice crop of apples. Some years we have no crop of apples or apples with a lot of defects. We mainly sell our organic apples to processors that make organic cider or apple sauce since fruit size and cosmetic defects are not an issue to make those products. Most years, we are able to sort out some apples that are suitable for sale as fresh organic apples.
If you are interested in purchasing organic apples from us, contact us after August 15. We will have an idea by then what the crop looks like and we can put your name on our list of organic customers. Harvest of apples is in September and October. The varieties of apples in our certified organic orchards include Crimson Crisp, NY 74640-1, Enterprise and Goldrush.
If you ever happen to stop at The Winery at Marjim Manor, our newest organic orchard is right behind the winery if you would like to see what it looks like, but please do not touch. It is a big experiment with Cornell University testing new rootstocks, training systems, ground cover management and new varieties.