Kansas Fruit History

Frank Morrison, Professor Emeritus, Kansas State University

Kansas sunshine, soils, growing season and water provide good conditions for growing fruit. Early recognition of this was made by the explorer Coronado who wrote to the King of Spain in 1541 after exploring north from Mexico in what is now the Kansas area.

“The country itself is the best I have ever seen for producing all the products of Spain. For besides the land itself being very flat and black and watered by rivulets and springs and rivers, I found plums like those of Spain, and nuts and very good sweet grapes and mulberries.”

As Kansas was being settled in the mid eighteen hundreds, fruit plantings were established for commercial production and self-sufficiency. In 1880, the Kansas State Board of Agriculture reported 2,386,812 apple, 5,091,549 peach and 935,897 cherry, pear and plum trees. Average tree spacing was at least 30 feet between tree rows and trees in the row, wider for apples, so the area of fruit tree plantings was in excess of 9,000 acres. The small fruit area in the same period was 5,529 acres in vineyards and 6,695 acres in raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.

With encouragement and assistance by the editor of the Kansas Farmer, the Kan-sas Horticultural Society was organized in 1869. It was the first agricultural or-ganization in Kansas. The society was reorganized in 1965 with the Kansas Horti-cultural Society becoming the parent organization for the Kansas Fruit Growers Association and 9 other horticultural organizations. In 1987 grape growers organized the Kansas Grape Growers and Winemakers Association.

The Kansas fruit acreage has declined through the years. Prohibition in 1880 re-sulted in a significant reduction of the state vineyard acreage by 1900. The most severe setback to Kansas fruit production (and indeed several Midwestern states) was due to an Armistice Day freeze in November, 1940. Many fruit trees were killed outright and others so severely damaged they never recovered. Comparative labor intensity is a major consideration for fruit producers. For example, apple, grape or strawberry production requires a minimum of 100 hours of labor per acre per year. However, only 3 hours or less per acre per year are required to produce wheat. Also, most fruit crops require 2 to 4 years from the year the planting is established until the plants or trees are mature enough to bear fruit and produce a financial return.

The present fruit acreage in Kansas is somewhat less than 5,000 acres. Innovations in fruit production result in increased production per acre with intensive plantings. Pest management results in high quality fruit with increased storage periods. Other technologies adapted by Kansas fruit growers, combined with Kansas sunlight, provide high quality fruit.

Most Kansas grown fruit is marketed through retail sales. You may drive to the grower farms and pick your own farm fresh fruit, select fruit at a Community Farmers’ Market, or you may select it in growers’ Farm Markets. For a wide selection of high quality fruit, you should visit all of these sites to select your farm fresh fruit.

Copyright © 2008 Kansas Fruit Growers Association

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