“People say we sell trees, but we really market genetics,” said former Adams County Nursery president Phil Baugher as he gave Gettysburg Connection a tour of the Aspers business last week.
The nursery, located on Nursery Rd., will supply over one million bare root fruit trees to growers around the world this year. The trees are dug in the fall, mostly from fields owned by the company in the state of Delaware, graded, sorted, bundled, and overwintered in a huge cold storage warehouse kept at almost freezing temperatures and automatically misted with water.
The trees are then packed and delivered to growers for planting in the spring.
The trees are shipped in lots from one tree to thousands of trees, serving both commercial growers and backyard gardeners.
Each tree is hand-grafted onto a one-year old root stock and then given a second year in the soil before it is dug. Baugher said the grafting process, known as asexual reproduction, allows the grower to keep the characteristics of the original tree, some of which are hundreds of years old.
Baugher said there were hundreds of varieties of fruits being sold every year and that a major job of the business was to test new varieties to meet the needs of modern growers. “We’ve seen a lot of changes in fruit trees,” he said.
The nursery, founded in 1905 by H.G. Baugher, is now run by the 5th generation of the family including Baugher’s niece and company president Jennifer and four other family members.
Baugher said the company had over 20 patents on fruit trees and continues to develop more. “The number of varieties we offer has increased, and 80 percent are for fresh fruit rather than fruit for processing,” he said. “The pandemic has been good for direct market fresh fruit.”
Baugher said the most interesting part of the job for him was developing new varieties. “You’ve got to do the trials to see if the tree has value,” he said. The company develops their own varieties and also buys stock from labs and universities from around the world. “There’s a critical interaction between growers and breeders,” said Baugher.
The trees are bred for many factors, from insect and fungus resistance to maturity date to taste and storage capabilities. The nursery can create specialized varieties on request from growers.
A continuing concern is to keep each of the trees free from disease.
Baugher said new varieties sometimes come from “limb sprouts” in which a mutation noticed on the branch of a tree in an orchard is cut and grafted into a new variety. But most new varieties come from breeding labs.
Baugher said many of the 100 or so employees are Spanish speaking, including many who are in the area H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers visas.
Jennifer Baugher said about 1/3 of the company is in product development, 1/3 in production, and 1/3 in sales.
Baugher said the major part of the company’s sales are on the East Coast, from Georgia to Candada.
Other innovations from the company include the invention of a tree sorting device that can sort thousands of trees every hour and new grafting techniques.
Featured image: Jennifer and Phil Baugher [Gettysburg Connection]