Family-owned apple orchards lose ground as state’s top crop faces many pressures

Across the state, midsize farms are being stamped out by economic and social pressure. The apple industry highlights some of the reasons for an increasingly consolidated industry.

CHELAN, Chelan County — On a rainy day in the hills above Lake Chelan, Dave Robison is checking his blossoming apple trees.

Days earlier he had sprayed the trees across his 120-acre orchard to cull some blossoms, leaving only the hardiest.

It’s a job Robison remembers doing with his dad. Before that, it was a job his grandfather first started doing in the Chelan area in the late 1950s. Now, it’s a task he carries out with his 27-year-old son.

But midsize apple orchards like the Robisons’ are disappearing.

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About a decade ago, there were 4,000 independent apple growers in Washington. Today there’s 1,450, according to Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

That trend isn’t unique to apple growers.

Across the state, midsize farms are being stamped out by economic and social pressure. Apples, the state’s top crop, highlight some of the reasons for an increasingly consolidated industry.

“I know more than one farmer who is still farming real hard and they’re 80 years old,” Robison said. “There are too many parts of it that are outside our control.”

“You can be the best farmer in the world and still go broke,” he said.

In early May, thousands of people lined the streets of downtown Wenatchee to watch the Stemilt Growers 98th Washington State Apple Blossom Festival Grand Parade.

A pink and silver, tinsel-covered, Apple-shaped structure sat on the lead float. Two teenagers, the apple blossom queen and princess, waved as spectators clapped.

“Someone in your world is involved in the apple industry. That’s how it is here,” said Darci Christoferson, Apple Blossom Festival organizer and a former queen. “You’re somehow committed to the apple…

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