This article was published in January 2004 in the Hendersonville Times-News
By Jennie Jones Giles
Wayne Pace attributes his success in the apple business to his willingness to make changes combined with a lot of hard work and a lot of luck.
Pace was named the North Carolina Apple Grower of the Year in 2004.
“I’ve always tried to change,” Pace said. “It takes a lot of hard work and luck. I’ve got to have something I can sell so I just watch the trends of things. Sometimes I make mistakes. It’s a tough business.”
Pace grows apples on about 125 acres in the Dana community, where he grew up in the apple business owned by his parents, Herbert and Joyce Pace. He has about 40 acres in apples in the Green Creek community south of Henderson County in Polk County. He also leases orchards.
“I was born and raised within one-half mile of this house,” said, Pace, 60, a 1961 graduate of East Henderson High School. “Growing apples is all I know. It’s all I’ve ever done.”
Pace changes the varieties of apples he grows as consumer demand changes. He said he has uprooted and changed varieties up to three times over the years on some of the original orchard.
He learned Red Delicious does not grow well in the hotter summers in Polk County. Golden Delicious and Granny Smiths grow better there. He recently planted some Pink Ladies, a later variety that he hopes may come in earlier in Polk County.
Pace said by having orchards scattered in different areas he is less likely to have total losses caused by the weather.
“Hail might hit one orchard and not the other,” he said. “It’s better not to have all the trees in one place.”
Over the years Pace said he has seen many apple varieties and he tries to keep up with the changes, while still keeping older varieties that sell well.
Pace owns and manages one of only five apple packing houses in Henderson County, Apple Ridge Farms. He only packs apples for two other growers, who also help with the packing, Tony Hill of Dana and Billy McKay of Tracy Grove.
“When I started my packing house in 1980, there were 35 packing houses in Henderson County,” Pace said. “I’m strictly fresh market now.”
Most of Pace’s apples were sold by his broker to the Kroger food store chain, he said.
This year his primary variety was Rome.
“We were short on Red Delicious and Goldens,” he said. “Most of the Romes went to New York before the season started there.”
Pace said his juice apples are sold as fresh juice to companies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.
“We sell to people who make fresh juice,” he said. “If the label says `not from concentrate,’ then it’s made from fresh apples.”
Most concentrates are made from apples from foreign countries, he said.
“A lot of what we sell, the undersize stuff, goes to a company that makes candy apples and chips,” he said.
Pace sells the processing apples he has through the N.C. Farm Bureau Marketing Association.
“This gives a broader base and is a cooperative effort,” he said.
Pace said he has always been willing to learn and try new approaches.
“I was involved in Integrated Pest Management when the early research was coming along,” he said. “We always try to use as few chemicals as we can because of the environment and economics. But nobody wants to buy an apple with a worm. The consumer wants the apple to be picture perfect with no chemicals. They want to have it both ways.”
Pace said he has planted varieties of apple trees then pushed them up before they ever produced an apple.
“If it’s not going to make any money, I’m not going down that road,” he said. “But I like growing apples and I would do it for free. Farming is tough. It takes a lot of hard work and luck and you’ve got to be willing to change.”