The revitalized UMD orchard aims to serve northern tree fruit growers in the cold-temperate regions of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan (zones 2-4) through re-creation of a northern demonstration and trial orchard at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), with an emphasis on the preservation of cold-hardy, heritage fruit varieties and demonstration of the economic value specialty crops offer small and diversified farming operations in the region.
Tree fruit growers in Great Lakes region have begun to appreciate the potential for increasing market share and profitability through heritage tree fruits (e.g. apples, pears, plums, cherries). Increasing consumer demand and interest in locally produced fruits adds to the desire of growers to diversify their fruit crops using heritage varieties. The high quality and multiple uses of many heritage varieties is beginning to shift consumer demand from only a few fruit varieties that have dominated the market, many of which are difficult or impossible to grow in cold-temperate regions. Further, cold-hardy heritage varieties have the potential to increase fruit production in areas of the that are not usually thought of as apple producing areas such as NE Minnesota, NW Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan. Recent research through the MN Department of Agriculture Tree Fruit IPM program documented that two of the most fruit damaging pests, plum curculio and coddling moth, common in large commercial orchards in central and southern MN are largely absent in the north. The combination of lower pest pressure and heritage varieties better adapted to soils and climate in these areas creates an opportunity for small, diversified farms to add a very high value and profitable crop to their operations.
Spring of 2010 will see the establishment of a long-term IPM monitoring program at the UMD orchard site. This program alongside the efforts to preserve cold-hardy, heritage tree fruits will serve as a focal point for education and training of UMD students and for local growers in the region through a range of courses and workshops currently being developed. While hundreds of heritage tree fruits were developed for cold- temperate growers in the first half of the 20th century, many have been lost and others are being lost to market dominance of a few well known table-ready varieties (i.e. Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp), most of which are grown far from the consumer. However, many heritage varieties still remain across the region and a window of opportunity exists to recover many valuable varieties for use in our local and regional food systems. The closest tree fruit trial programs to northern growers are generally hundred of miles away (i.e. St. Paul, MN; Madison, WI, Traverse City, MI) and tend to focus on the climate, pest and disease conditions of zone 5 or higher. Though consumer interest in local foods is increasing rapidly, few resources exist specifically for northern growers. As a result, growers in this region must generally, find and trial their own trees. There is a strong need for a northern site to focus on the climate, pest and disease conditions more relevant to northern growers. The UMD trial orchard will help fill this gap.
Fall 2009, UMD began recovery of a 5 acre, seedling trial orchard (circa 1911-1970), including brush clearing of ¼ of the site, restorative pruning of 37 surviving trial trees, and selection of volunteer seedlings for grafting stock. Scions of 40 named and 12 unnamed heritage varieties (zone2-4) were collected from scion exchanges and local historic trees for addition to the orchard in spring 2010. Our program aims to serve as a resource for small to mid-sized diversified farming operations and northern tree fruit growers in the western Great Lakes region to help them increase their profitability and market share in the local food economy through the addition of heritage tree fruits. Our objectives include:
- Heritage fruit recovery, including the documentation and recovery of cold-hardy heritage fruit varieties in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan
- Establish UMD trial orchard as a repository and testing site of northern hardy varieties (zone 2-4).
- Increase the number of growers using cold-hardy, heritage tree fruits through collaboration with individuals and organizations across the region to build capacity for reclamation, field testing and distribution of multi-purpose, heritage fruit varieties.
- Growers education, training and access to data and resources will be provided across the region to increase their crop diversity and profitability through heritage tree fruits.
- Increase consumer access and demand for heritage fruit products through collaborations with local and regional marketing programs (e.g. Minnesota Grown, etc.) to increase consumer interest and appreciation of heritage tree fruits varieties.
- Conduct public tree fruit workshops throughout the year for backyard orchardists and consumers to increase public knowledge and skills required to grow and use a wide range of heritage tree fruits.
Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Association