Nova Scotia

'Complete turnaround': Honeycrisps reviving Nova Scotia apple farms

Every commercial grower in Nova Scotia is now harvesting Honeycrisp apples, a variety that is helping local orchards flourish.

Fruit growers association say Honeycrisp variety brings in $700 to $800 dollars per bin

The warm days and cool nights make Nova Scotia an ideal place to grow Honeycrisp apples because it ripens to a brighter red than it does in orchards further south. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Jonathan Fuller says he wishes his late father could see his orchard now.

Over the past 15 years, his farm in Avonport, N.S., has flourished, due to in part to the ongoing success of the Honeycrisp apple variety. 

"My father passed away 15 years ago. I wish he was around to see the returns we're getting. He never really saw any money coming into the farm. A lot of older guys never saw returns like this," he said. 

"It's just a complete turnaround. We can buy good equipment now. We can pay down some debt. We can set some money aside for the kid's education. It's taking the stress off, paying bills, pesticide bills, it's made it fun."

Over the past 15 years, Jonathan Fuller's farm in Avonport, N.S., has flourished, due to in part to the ongoing success of the Honeycrisp apple variety. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Ripens to bright red in N.S. climate

The big apple is often sold individually. The warm days and cool nights make Nova Scotia an ideal place to grow it because it ripens to a brighter red than it does in orchards further south, Fuller said. 

Larry Lutz, vice president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, says the Honeycrisp variety brings in $700 to $800 dollars per bin, five times as much as some traditional varieties such as MacIntosh or Cortland and double or triple some others.

The Lutz family farm is location in Rockland, N.S., south of Berwick. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Lutz, who has a farm in Rockland, south of Berwick, was among the first growers to plant the variety in the late 90s. 

"All of a sudden this one came along. which finally we could start to get enough money to cover our costs, and have a little left over. It's made a huge difference," he said. "People are re-investing in orchards. Young people are coming back to the farms. It's the biggest single change that's ever happened to our industry."

Exports up 24% in 2016

Nova Scotia's Department of Agriculture says all 60 to 65 commercial growers in the province now harvest the variety, which was developed in Minnesota in 1991. The province's apple exports were up 24 per cent last year, valued at $15 million. 

Honeycrisp currently accounts for 25 per cent of Lutz's crop. He plans to expand so that in a few years it will make up half of his production.

Honeycrisp apples are also more time consuming to pick. They have a thick stem, which has to be snipped off individually to prevent it from puncturing the thin skin of other apples when it's packed in crates. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Even this fall, with its warmer weather, doesn't appear to have interfered with the harvest, Lutz said. 

The picking period is brief — from a couple of weeks to a little more than a month. Lutz said in order to be able to pay pickers, growers must have varieties that are ready to harvest before and after that short window. 

Expensive, labour-intensive harvest

Honeycrisp apples are also more time consuming to pick. They have a thick stem, which must be snipped off to prevent it from puncturing the thin skin of other apples when it's packed in crates. 

"We spent twice as much time picking them. We put on a lot more calcium sprays to keep them from developing any disorder. It's a lot more expensive to produce, but the returns are justifying it," Lutz said.

Larry Lutz, vice president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, says the Honeycrisp variety brings in $700 to $800 dollars per bin, five times as much as some traditional varieties such as MacIntosh or Cortland and double or triple some others. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Like Lutz, Fuller has been increasing how many Honeycrisp trees he has each year. He does wonder what will happen in the years ahead, but he said so far the returns have been consistently strong. 

"You can't put all your eggs in one basket, you still have to have some other stuff to pick. But by far and away, the large majority of our trees are going to be Honeycrisp. With the returns we're getting, it would be foolish not to."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 13 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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