A Message from Rodale Institute Chief Scientist on Organic Apple Production

A message from Dr. Andrew Smith, Rodale Institute Chief Scientist, on organic apple production:

Apples are arguably the most difficult crop to grow organically, especially in a humid, temperate climate such as the northeast United States. There are a host of weeds, insect pests, and fungal and bacterial diseases that are exacerbated during periods of cool, wet weather.

The names of these diseases are in line with the symptoms they inflict – scab, rust, fireblight, sooty blotch. Based on USDA reports, the challenge to control these pests with chemicals, that are not allowed in organic production, consistently places apples atop the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen TM list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables (over 90% of samples contain pesticide residue and average 4.4 different chemicals; see: www.ewg.org/foodnews/apples.php).

Apple growers are using these chemicals to produce a blemish-free apple that meets market requirements at the price consumers are willing to pay. This year at the Rodale Institute we have had consistently cool, wet weather conditions that included heavy rains perfect for the development and spread of most or all apple diseases. This led to a near-complete crop failure.

While this is discouraging to the staff who have diligently worked hard to maintain the orchard and fight weeds, insects and diseases, we can be encouraged by the commitment Rodale Institute has made to advancing organic apple production.  Rodale Institute has put a line in the sand and said we will not use synthetic chemicals, even if it means blemished apples, increased costs, and the worst nightmare a farmer faces–complete crop failure.

Rodale Institute is committed to developing chemical-free, regenerative organic methods to producing crops that improve the health and well-being of people and the planet and has been for over 70 years. Despite solid research and demonstration that organic apple production is possible, Rodale Institute stands with just a handful of organic apple growers in the northeastern United States. This is why we do the research we do—to help farmers produce a viable crop, combatting pests, disease and extreme weather—without the use of chemicals. And hopefully, without crop failure on their own farms.

One Response to “A Message from Rodale Institute Chief Scientist on Organic Apple Production”

  1. pliny keep

    Hi Dr. Smith,
    I feel the pain in your heartfelt message. However, aside from a commitment to advancing organic methods (like Michael Phillips recent work) to meet conventional consumer expectations, there is also hope in changing consumer expectations to not only accept blemished but perfectly edible fruit, but to seek it out. I have for years seen scabs and spots and a true sign of organic, when I won’t trust labels. And there is the ugly food movement, http://www.endfoodwaste.org/ugly-fruit—veg.html

    keep hoping, and diversify your crops


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