For over a century, large-scale agriculture in Vermont has been identified with three primary crops: milk, maple, and apples. Today, apples are grown on about 3200 acres in Vermont, and contribute $20 million annually to the state’s agricultural economy. Through the 1980s, Vermont apples were sold largely to wholesale, out-of-state markets, and were packed and shipped by in-state and out-of-state firms. By the 1990s, changes in world and national markets signaled a downturn in the Vermont apple industry, and by the end of the decade, many operations had closed or were facing significant difficulties. In 1998, the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association (VFTGA); Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAA); and University of Vermont (UVM) Extension held a summit to discuss problems facing the industry and seek solutions that could help it reposition itself for the new millennium. Several initiatives were implemented as a result of that meeting, and changes in local marketing opportunities and production systems in the 2000s helped to lift the state of the industry to its present state of success. However, Vermont’s apple growers face new difficulties with navigating changes in marketing and production systems, while a decline in traditional support from UVM Extension and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets has reduced research, marketing, and outreach programs at a time when new knowledge is critical for growers’ success.
The intent of the 2013 Vermont Apple Industry Strategic Action Plan is to identify strategies and action items that community partners can implement to ensure to success of the industry and its place in the greater food system into the future. The plan was devised initially by the VTFGA, who are the primary beneficiaries of its success, and was redrafted based on solicited comments from community partners. It is not expected that the plan will remain a static document, but rather that relationships formed in the process will guide participants toward developing mutually acceptable goals and strategies that can be acted on.
A core consideration in the plan is that the Vermont apple industry is a significant component of the state’s food system, whose economic impact is significantly greater than its relatively small number of producers might suggest. Apple orchards represent a unique niche in the food system in Vermont, in that they are included in multiple and diverse markets. Apples are identified in the Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Strategic Plan as one of only seven crops that are produced in sufficient capacity in the state to meet local consumption needs, and one of only three (with milk and maple) that generate substantial surplus from which major wholesale export to out-of state markets may be realized. This highlights the need to support and promote apple producers who sell out-of-state, and who generate significant clean, environmentally-sound economic activity. That apples lend themselves
to storage, and good facilities exist that provide near year-round access to supplies of fruit, suggests that they will continue to be one of the main agricultural products consumers purchase on a regular basis that is grown in the state. The other side of the Vermont apple industry, which is not mutually exclusive with wholesale sales, is the retail, farmstand, direct store delivery (DSD), and pick your own (PYO) market for local fruit. This component of the industry directly serves the local foods focus that drives much of agriculture and food policy in the state. Retail orchards also hold a unique role in their promotion of Agritourism activities, especially since harvest and PYO activity coincides with the fall foliage season which is a primary component of Vermont’s tourism industry. Because apple production occurs in orchards that produce over decades, and whose initial return on investment typically occurs after over twelve years from establishment, the industry also inherently contains a level of permanence that ensures that it will continue to provide sustained activity within the agriculture and food economies.
This plan was informed primarily by discussion at the 2013 Vermont Apple Industry Strategic Planning Summit and subsequent apple grower and supporting partner comments. Details from that meeting are outlined beginning on page 31. Action items are outlined below by participant group, but efforts may be completed by multiple parties in order to capitalize on relationships between parties within the overall system.
Bradshaw, Terence L., "Strategic Planning for the Vermont Apple Industry: Planning for Success in the 21st Century" (2013). College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Faculty Publications. 185.