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Getting the most from Ambrosia

‘Grower-mentor’ Gord Shandler hits the road to help fellow orchardists produce what retailers really want. By Judie Steeves


n Ambrosia apple grower from Summerland travelled up and down the Okanagan Valley this spring to help fellow orchardists produce fruit that will bring them top returns. With extension staff virtually eliminated from the provincial agriculture ministry budget, he says it’s now up to growers to help each other upgrade their horticultural skills. So, he’s being paid by the New Variety Development Council (the new Ambrosia Council), through a levy on each box of the Ambrosia variety of apple shipped, to train fellow growers so they produce and ship only fruit of the size and colour desired by retailers, so they don’t waste money growing apples that will not receive the optimum price. “There are excess apples in the world right now, so to meet the cost of production we have to grow the sizes and colour of apple that the market will pay the most money for,” explains Gord Shandler, who describes himself as a grower-mentor.

He figures they lose up to $1 million a year just on Ambrosia, by growing small fruit instead of optimizing production, partly because they’re not getting the technical help they need, with a bare- bones staff at the ministry offices now. Overall, Shandler says the sizes of apples grown have decreased in recent years, which brings down the overall quality of fruit shipped, and affects all growers of that niche-market variety of apple.

By focusing on quality, Shandler says

he can make $12,000 to $16,000 an acre

growing Ambrosia. It’s a new variety discovered by Cawston-area growers Wilf and Sally Mennell.

“I love growing apples. I hate the business side and I sympathize with


growers who have spent the money and labour but are not getting the technical help they need to grow the best fruit.”

‘Hortisculptural alignment’ is the term Gord Shandler uses to describe a more refined approach to pruning.

essential that crop loads be controlled and that the balance of fertilizer be maintained.

Shandler has been growing apples for 30 years, and is the second generation of his family to grow tree fruits in Summerland, where he planted his Ambrosias 11 years ago.

“What I am trying to teach is a more refined approach to pruning—I call it hortisculptural alignment.

“Each variety has its own horticultural characteristics and requirements. There are strict physical tree shapes and spacings depending on variety and tree densities (super spindle, slender spindle, or other lower density plantings.) “With that information we now have to match soil capabilities, site locations, variety and individual grower expertise. It sounds complicated but there is a simple and step-by-step way to get there. Horticultural skills and technology transfer is sorely lacking and critically needed to turn the industry around so that all of us (especially growers) are making a good living,” he says. Ambrosia is sensitive to over-cropping and also to high-nitrogen fertilizer, so it’s

“Fruit is sorted to size and defects, including the most desirable colour,” he explains, so growers must grow to those specifications in order to get the best bang for their buck.

There’s not much point in growing the variety, for which growers pay an extra fee, unless you grow top quality apples, so you get your money back from the market.

“I throw fruit on the ground that won’t make up my cost of production. It would interfere with the overall strategy of marketing a unique bi-colored apple. I ship very few very-small or very-large apples. I target size 100 to 72 because that’s where the marketing of this fruit will produce the most money.” Shandler was also critical of the federal government for not protecting farmers better.

Instead, he says, cheap imports are permitted to be brought in and sold to retailers at a level that B.C. producers cannot match. The consumer rarely sees a cost benefit from such transactions.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2011 17

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