The state of Washington is the West’s apple growing monarch, but the region’s No. 1 grower-shipper of organic apples, Cuyama Orchards, is based in California.
“Our volume will be right around 200,000 cartons this season,” said Byron Albano, marketing manager.
The grower-packer-shipper maintains its sales and administrative offices in North Hollywood, but the orchards are in the Cuyama Valley, about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara.
Cuyama Orchards is on the warmer, eastern side of the California coastal range, but because of the valley’s microclimate, the organic apple season starts weeks later than conventional apple crops elsewhere in the state.
“Galas start our program, and harvesting should begin about Aug. 30, “Albano said in early August. “Our second variety is the Honeycrisp, which we’ll start packing in mid-September.”
Another September arrival will be granny smiths.
“It’s not yet a major variety for us, but we’re relatively new to the grannys,” Albano said.
The premier apple variety at Cuyama Orchards is the fuji.
“We have a very high-brix, exceptional fuji,” Albano said.
Picking of early fujis is scheduled to begin about Sept. 25, he said, with the standard fuji season expected to start about Oct. 15.
Apples are the major commodity at Cuyama Orchards, but a featured item is the crimson gold crabapple.
“It’s a small, sweet crab apple,” Albano said, “And we’re certainly the country’s largest grower-shipper of crimson golds.”
Yet another of the company’s major apple varieties is Pink Ladies; the harvest is scheduled to start in early November.
Cuyama Orchards also grows limited supplies of organic heirloom apples. Among them are Arkansas blacks, spitzenbergs and pippins, Albano said.
Acreage at Cuyama Orchards this season increased by more than 25% when a 60-acre block received organic certification.
“That brings our total to 265 organic certified acres,” Albano said.
The volume will ramp up in the coming years, he said, because some of the orchards have not yet reached maturity.
Cuyama Orchards will have promotable supplies of apples through the holidays and will continue to ship the organic fruit at least through March and possibly into April, Albano said.
Retailers make up the lion’s share of the company’s customers, followed by wholesalers. The company also serves a limited number of foodservice customers, Albano said.