Apple Wedge Packing

Bins holding 25 bushels of apples were emptied into a soft water bath, limiting bruising. The apples are washed, waxed and dried. Damaged apples are culled into bins as they tumble along the rollers. A computerized color sorter takes four photographs of each apple, determining size, weight and color.
“The computer gives specific information that places the apple on the line where it will drop out into the appropriate bin,” agriculture extension agent Marvin Owings Jr. said.
The largest and best apples are tray-packed to sell as fresh apples in the stores. The remaining apples, about 85 percent, go into bags for store sales.
Apple Wedge Packing and Cider is the largest fresh apple packer in the state of North Carolina.
During the apple packing process, apples are submerged in a water bath, then dried and waxed. Small juice apples are automatically separated. The larger apples moved through the electronic color sorter.
The apples move from the belt according to size, for either tray packing or bagging. Tray-packed apples are the largest and best of the apples, sold individually in grocery stores.
Bar code labels are placed on each apple.
“The bar code can trace the fruit back to this packing house,” Owings said.
The bar code can also tell the apple packer when the apple was packed, what variety it is, who picked the apple and where the apple was picked.
“Apple Wedge Packers and Cider rents approximately 35 hives each spring to ensure pollination in our orchards,” said Greg Nix, orchard owner. “There are 50,000 to 60,000 bees per hive.”
Nix is a fifth-generation apple farmer. His love for the apple industry began at an early age. He’s been on tractors in the orchard with his grandfather since age 5.
In 1983, Nix and his uncle decided that they wanted to market their apples differently than in the past. They bought a used packing line and started packing fresh apples under the label of Nix and Moss. As time progressed, Nix bought more land and increased his production. Along with increased production came increased sales.
In 1987, the label changed from Nix and Moss. In 1999, Nix and his uncle had a friendly family split so that each of them could operate separately.
Nix built a new packing facility and installed a new electronic color sorter and apple sizer to increase quality and consistency so that Apple Wedge could be competitive in the market place.
Today Apple Wedge is the marketing arm for Apple Hill Orchards, which is owned and operated by Nix.
Apple Wedge packs apples for 15 to 20 other growers in the area. In a normal year, they market approximately 200,000 bushels of apples to grocery stores such as Ingles, Food Lion, and Wal-Mart, as well as to the military, school systems, and many retail outlets in the Southeast.
Apple Wedge has sent shipments of apples to Russia, Israel, and South America.
In 1995 Apple Wedge Cider was established and Nix began to produce and market fresh cider. From producing approximately 15,000 gallons the first year, Nix is now producing more than 100,000 gallons seasonally. The cider is sold to many of the same customers as the fresh apples.
When Nix first started in the apple business, he had about 30 acres and approximately 2,000 trees. Today the orchards consist of approximately 150 acres and 45,000 trees.
Nix received the Apple Grower of the Year presented by American Fruit Grower in 2001; the N.C. Apple Growers Association Honorary Life Membership; the Environmental Respect Award presented by AG Products, NCSU Extension Service, N.C. Apple Growers Association, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation in 1997; and the Apple Grower of the Year presented by N.C. Apple Growers Association in 1996.