Honeycrisp apples, Niagara Falls and deep-dish pizza – it must be America!

Last month, my colleague Emil and I travelled to the United States for Outfield’s first visit to the country. US growers have been using the Outfield platform since 2021, but this trip was an opportunity to meet our users in person, and to learn a whole lot more about the US apple industry.

From London, we flew to New York JFK and drove 6 hours north to Rochester, New York. Rochester is situated in the middle of the west New York growing region, with Orleans County to its west and Wayne County to its east. New York is the second largest apple producing state in the US (after Washington) and much of that production is in this part of the state.

There is some incredible innovation happening here, supported in large part by the Cornell University Extension Program. The scheme connects Cornell’s AgriTech campus at Geneva, New York with growers, processors, nurseries and technology companies to solve challenges the industry faces. We found that the fruit growers of west New York are open to testing new varieties and techniques, and very keen to embrace new technologies. Some of the most innovative growers we have the pleasure of working with are based here.

Emil and I were very happy to attend the Lake Ontario Fruit Program Summer Fruit Tour on August 9th. The tour had five different stops with fascinating talks at each one, from rootstock trials to ‘grow through’ nurseries, a review of blueberry production to a presentation on Spanish language leadership training. The whole event was rounded off with an ice cream social by the shore of Lake Ontario.

One particular agenda item for the event was the use of new computer vision systems for gathering data in orchards, and it was interesting to see the various approaches being trialled. As part of that discussion, Emil and I were asked to give a demo of the Outfield system while standing next to a SweeTango orchard that had been surveyed the month before.

From New York, Emil had to head back to the UK, and I travelled on to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Just north of Grand Rapids is an area known as the Fruit Ridge, which is Michigan’s main growing region for apples. I’m very grateful to Jamie Kober from Riveridge Farms who showed me round their farm units and talked me through different varieties and growing styles. V-trellis style trees and the Honeycrisp variety are both areas where Riveridge is seeing growth, and it was great to be able to test the Outfield system out on both.

For anyone who has never had a Honeycrisp apple, they have a great flavour and a fantastic ‘snap’ when you bite into them. It’s easy to see why it is fast becoming one of America’s favourite apples!

After Grand Rapids, I drove around the shore of Lake Michigan to Chicago, to attend the USApple Outlook 2022 conference. This annual meeting of USApple happens in the city every year, and is where the industry comes together to finalise their nation-wide yield estimates, network, and discuss the most pressing topics facing American apple growers. Big topics for this year were inflation and the large drop in apple output reported in China. 

USApple Outlook is a great place to understand what are the big issues that American fruit producers are facing. Understanding the challenges and opportunities facing the industry as a whole allows Outfield to better understand what decisions growers, exporters and marketers up and down the supply chain are trying to make, and what data they need to make them.

It was my first time in Chicago, and after the conference I enjoyed wandering around the Loop area, trying a deep dish pizza, and going to a ball game at Wrigley Field (the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 8-7). I was even able to see the US Navy Blue Angels perform at the Chicago Air and Water Show – for an ex-aeronautical engineer that was a real treat!

Throughout our time in the US, we had a fantastic reaction from growers to the Outfield platform. There is a high level of technology adoption in the American agriculture industry, and the farmers we spoke to very quickly focused on things like the low cost of getting set up with Outfield and the speed of covering hundreds of hectares (or acres, in the US). It was great to connect face to face with our American users, and we are so excited to onboard more growers from New York and Michigan to the system, and from the other 48 states too!

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