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The Apple Package - Boxes Or Barrels

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


Shall the box supplant the barrel as the standard apple package? This question has confronted the eastern apple growers almost continuously since western apples in boxes began to compete with eastern barrel-packed apples some fifteen years ago. It has nettled the easterner to see a bushel box of Washington apples sell for $3.00 while his own 3 bushel barrel of the same variety brought only $4.00 on the same market. Knowing that a considerable difference in quality was all in favor of his own fruit the easterner has been inclined to attribute the discrimination in price to the superiority of the box type of pack-age over barrels, while in reality the difference was due—not to type of package—but rather to the superior methods and skill of the west-ern grower in grading and packing. Their great distance from market and high consequent freight rates necessitated a package that would pack tighter in cars. Boxes have that advantage over barrels. More-over, they knew that inferior fruit could not possibly pay the high transportation charges, compete with eastern apples and still return a profit. Consequently, they began a scheme of, growing—so intensive—that today an orchard is considered unsuccessful that produces less than 90% fancy fruit. Attendant with this growing scheme—there has been developed a skill in grading and packing—nearly 100% efficient. Couple with this the fact that the west lacks the hardwood material for making barrels, and does possess ideal wood for boxes, and you have the reasons for the distinctive western apple box, in which uniformity is imperative.

Contrast this situation, if you will, to that in the east, where, it is safe to say, less than 30% of the total apple crop is fancy or No. 1, because of less intensive, cultural methods, where an inherent habit of using "facers" and "fillers" still persists, resulting in more or less careless grading and packing, where transportation rates are comparatively minor considerations and where there is barrel material a plenty, and scarcely no box wood, if any, and you have the reasons for the characteristic eastern apple barrel, in which no uniformity is required and also the reasons for the eight failures out of every ten attempts to pack exclusively in boxes east of the Mississippi.

Each type of package is thus seen to be the result of existing conditions, each perfectly adapted to the style of fruit produced and to the market they expect to supply; and the discriminating prices are paid for the superior skill and enterprise of the western grower, rather than for type of package used.

So much for history; as to the future, the trend, following the tendency of the times in other commodities, is all toward the smaller package. But so long as there exists the great middle class of people and the relatively small wealthy class, there will be need of the two types of packages with their respective "shuffle" and "specialized" pack. The great mass of people cannot afford to pay fancy prices for fancy packing. What they want is quantity combined with fair quality. The barrel package supplies that demand and will for many years to come.

The easterner should, therefore, be conservative on the subject of box apple packing. The western methods of growing and packing are more expensive than the eastern scheme, and the net returns are scarcely, if any, greater, bushel for bushel. And so, although the drift is all toward the box the easterner should not begin their use until he is fully prepared, and that is only when he can procure boxes as cheaply as barrels, bushel for bushel, when he can produce at least 90% fancy or No. 1 fruit, in large quantities, not only one year, but year after year; when he can command skilled and experienced packers and when the has a market educated to that style of package. At present less than one grower in ten—east of the Mississippi—meets these conditions.

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