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Producing Excellence

Peter Russell

Appleton, NY

Russell Farms, Inc.

Products: Apples, cabbage, tomatoes, peaches, sweet corn, corn and soybeans

Size of Operation: 1,000 acres

In Business Since: 1988

Farm Credit Partner: Farm Credit East

Working with Farm Credit Since: 1991

After working for a few years in “corporate America,” Peter Russell decided it was time to follow through on something that was always in the back of his mind: returning to his roots to become the fifth generation to run his family farm.

“Farming always provided my family with a good living, so I knew there was opportunity there,” Peter says. “There’s also a lot of intrinsic value in growing crops to feed America, and being part of a sustainable and healthy food system.” More than two decades later, he and his brothers, Bill and Paul, work together to manage their 1,000 acre operation where they focus on apples supplemented with other produce crops.

Their 300 acres of apple orchards produce an annual crop of 300,000-bushels which is sold to the wholesale market both in the U.S. and overseas in the United Kingdom. The Russells raise multiple apple varieties, including popular types like Red Delicious and Empire and also “managed varieties.” This growing industry segment arose from the need for the universities that breed new varieties to obtain funds to continue their research. Once a new variety is developed, it’s sold it to a group of growers who then manage production, including setting quality standards and production limits, and marketing these premium apples to the public. The Russells raise three different managed varieties, one through their membership in a cooperative organization of 44 U.S. and Canadian growers, and two through their participation in a New York grower group. “The apple market has really grown in the past ten years, so we’re putting our investment in the industry,” says Peter.

Part of this investment was building controlled atmosphere storage facilities using financing from Farm Credit East, on whose board of directors Peter has served. “It says a lot when your banker comes out to the farm and walks the land,” he says. “Farm Credit understands agriculture, and they understood why we wanted to build the controlled atmosphere storage.” Peter built his first such facility in 1992, a building that held 108,000 bushels. Several expansions later, he can now store 500,000 bushels of his own production as well as fruit for 30 other local growers.

While their biggest focus is on apples, the Russells continue to raise cabbage, tomatoes, processing peaches and sweet corn. “My father really built a sound, diversified farm able to withstand the weather,” Peter says. “I’ve been blessed to continue it on and expand it.”

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