8/24/2013 7:00 AM
By Marla Pisciotta West Virginia Correspondent
GORE,Va. — Growing fruit is a way of life for Cordell Watt.
That commitment has earned Watt, 43, owner and operator of Timber Ridge Fruit Farm here, the 2013 Apple Grower of the Year Award. Watt received the award Thursday at a ceremony in Chicago presented by the American Fruit Grower magazine.
“The apple business is the only thing I’ve ever done,” Watt said. “The only time I was away from the farm was when I attended West Virginia University.”
Watt, a third-generation fruit farmer, grew up on Timber Ridge farm.
“I took over the farm seven and a half years ago when my father passed away,” he said.
Prior to that, Watt said, he did everything from pruning to spraying.
Now he has become more of a manager and less of a hands-on person.
Apple trees cover 500 acres and peach trees cover 15 acres of the Timber Ridge Fruit Farm.
Watt said he is geared toward growing as much fruit as possible. He recently purchased an additional 270 acres, which he is in the process of converting to orchards.
“We’re in the process of clearing it and putting in apple trees,” he said.
“I just built a brand new cold storage that holds 100,000 bushel,” Watt said, adding the farm also has a commercial packing house.
The cold storage was built using SmartFresh specifications, a technology used by growers to store ripening fruit. It includes the use of methylcyclopropene, which is structurally related to the natural plant hormone ethylene and is used commercially to slow down ripening fruit.
“It’s a way to store apples long-term,” Watt said.
He recently put a new roof on the packing house and built a new office.
“We’re definitely trying to expand our apple growing in all directions,” he said
Timber Ridge’s main varieties include red and golden delicious, Fuji and gala apples. He said he could grow other apples but these are his mainstay varieties.
“These grow well on my farm,” he said.
Timber Ridge sells to both domestic and international customers.
“We send our apples to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico,” Watt said. “Some years, 50 percent of our growth is exported.”
Watt said foreign countries pay good money for fruit and in return expect a really good product. His export fruit is brokered by Cohen Produce of Hershey, Pa.
His other markets include a long list of small farmers markets, large farm markets in Georgia and chain-stores, including Walmart.
“We also sell lesser grade apples to the area prison system. We sell to everyone,” Watt said.
He said he likes to diversify and spread things out so that in one season, if one market is slow, he has a back-up plan. He feels that fresh apples are the mainstay for the apple industry.
The farm also participates in the H-2A government guest worker program
“We bring 30 to 35 workers from Jamaica to help with the harvest,” he said.
Regarding the award, Watt said he wasn’t told too much about it but he knew he was nominated by several individuals.