Sunday, August 29, 2010

Will the University of Minnesota

Destroy the Minnesota Apple Orchard Business?

An outstanding explanation by an orchardist with no dog in the fight. It is very important that the University of Minnesota management read and understand these points. Destroying Minnesota businesses because of greed is inexcusable...

From the website of Hoch Orchard:

SweeTango is the newest apple released from the University of Minnesota’s Horticultural Research Center. This apple is a cross between Zestar and Honeycrisp and is really a good tasting apple. It has the tartness of the Zestar and is even more dense and crisp than Honeycrisp. The flavor is richer than either of its parents.

The good news is we have planted 1000 of these trees. Which is the maximum that I am allowed to plant because the University sold the rights of the apple to a marketing group and they control who grows the trees and how many.

The bad news is most of the SweeTango that will be sold in Minnesota grocery stores will have been grown everywhere but Minnesota!

The local apple stands will be selling the Minnesota Grown SweeTango, but the grocery stores will get SweeTango grown in other regions. The last I heard there were only three Minnesota orchards out of the roughly fifty orchards that are allowed to grow SweeTango in wholesale volumes.

[NBT = Next Best Thing, Marketing Group controlling sales and production of Sweet Tango]

Minnesotans can only eat so many apples. Every SweeTango that NBT brings into Minnesota grocery stores displaces another Minnesota grown apple. As production of the NBT SweeTango increases it will displace a growing portion of the Honeycrisp and Zestar demand in the wholesale market.

Pepin Heights has put together a very restrictive marketing program that excludes Minnesota apple growers from the wholesale SweeTango market. While this may be a very good plan for NBT it could result in a drastically shrinking market share for the other Minnesota based wholesale orchards.

The Minnesota wholesale apple industry could be devastated by an apple developed by our own university.

There is no need for them to exclude the Minnesota wholesale apple orchards from the SweeTango market. We have to convince Pepin Heights Orchard and the University of Minnesota to remove the restrictions from the Minnesota apple growers.

Most of the SweeTango apples are produced on large-scale orchards around the country. Only a few of them are being grown right here in the state that developed them. The vast majority of SweeTango apples are grown hundreds or thousands of miles away and shipped here to compete with our local farmers. NBT is bringing apples into Minnesota and is trying to start what they hope will be a nation wide craze for SweeTango. We hope they won’t put the last few Minnesota wholesale orchards in the state out of business in the process. The orchards large enough to compete with NBT are not allowed to grow more than 1000 trees of SweeTango, and to top it off, they are not allowed to cooperatively pack the apples they grow.

NBT is doing a dance around the Minnesota orchards with an apple developed by the University if Minnesota! It really is a Sweet Tango! It’s just not very sweet for the Minnesota wholesale orchards that are trying to compete with NBT.

Why is this info on the Hoch Orchard Web site?

You may wonder why I am posting this information on my website. We grow organic apples that are sold in member-owned food coops. We don’t compete with the other Minnesota apple orchards and we don’t compete with the NBT SweeTango apples. We don’t really have ‘a dog in the fight’ so to speak. What does bother me is that our great University of Minnesota has made a mistake in its release of SweeTango, and may inadvertently play a role in destroying the Minnesota wholesale apple industry. I am strong supporter of sustainable agriculture and local food production. This business model for SweeTango will put family owned Minnesota wholesale apple orchards competing against some of the biggest and most progressive apple production companies in North America. This model brings their apples into our backyard! It doesn’t take an economist to figure out who is going to come out on top. This marketing model throws a bone to the smallest Minnesota apple growers, while cutting the wholesale growers (who produce the majority of Minnesota’s apples) completely out of the SweeTango market. It is pretty obvious this great new apple will drastically reduce local demand for its parents Honeycrisp and Zestar. Those two older releases from the University are what pay the bills for most Minnesota apple growers.

What about over production and quality?

On the other side of the coin, I am not against the University releasing this as a managed variety. Controlling production and setting quality standards are great ideas, and the Minnesota apple growers should certainly be required to adhere to this. We all pay an annual royalty for the right to grow SweeTango. These royalties help fund the successful marketing program.

This managed apple model would be fine if the Minnesota growers would be allowed to grow as many SweeTango as they need to compete in the Minnesota market place; and be allowed to pool the crop and cooperatively pack the apples. NBT could continue to control sales in 49 other states and Canada while allowing local wholesale apple growers to compete in the Minnesota market. Removing the volume restriction will allow Minnesota apple growers to compete on a level playing field here in Minnesota.

What have other Fruit Breeding Programs done?

After the U of Minnesota announced its release of SweeTango as a managed variety, Washington State announced that apple varieties it is about to release will be available to all Washington growers. Cornell University also announced that it is going to release its new varieties in a modified management model where New York apple growers get first option to grow their releases. It is just my opinion, but I do not think it was a coincidence that the other two major US apple breeding programs made this announcement after the U of Mn came out with its controversial model.

How can you help?

If you want to buy Minnesota Grown SweeTango in your local grocery store then I suggest you push the University to make this apple available to all Minnesota apple growers without a quantity limitation. Tell your produce manager that you want Minnesota Grown SweeTango. If they won’t carry them, tell them you will shop somewhere else. Then start a blog, push your politicians, call the University, send a letter to the governor, or do what ever is in your power to pressure the University and Pepin Heights to correct the situation.

What happens if this Model isn’t changed?

If local demand for Honeycrisp and Zestar falls off because of increasing demand for SweeTango, local wholesale growers will either have to reduce the amount of fruit they sell in Minnesota, or find a new variety to compete with SweeTango. Won’t that be something if Minnesota wholesale apple growers get together to market a new variety to compete with a variety developed with Minnesota tax dollars? I think the first option is the more realistic scenario. The result could be fewer Minnesota apple growers, fewer apples grown in Minnesota, and one more nail in the coffin for local family farms.

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