Growing Apples and Autumn Traditions

Eric Behling is a fourth-generation farmer and owner of Behling Orchards. Photo by Lynnette Wright, FSA.

By Lynnette Wright, FSA, New York

Meet Eric Behling, fourth-generation farmer and co-owner of Behling Orchards in Mexico, New York. The farm spans over 800 acres, 200 of which are apple orchards. Those orchards produce 80 different varieties of apples, including many acres of Honeycrisp, their number one seller.

Behling Orchards is owned and operated by Eric, his brother, Steve, mother, Marion, and son, Orion. In addition to apples, they grow a variety of winter squash, pumpkins, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and much more.

Fall on the Farm

Apple picking is a very popular fall activity in upstate New York. Each autumn, Eric and his family turn the farm into a fall festival where weekend visitors can pick apples and pumpkins and enjoy other outdoor activities, including a corn maze, zipline, bounce pad, and a Ferris wheel.

Visitors can find seasonal products in their farm store. Photo by Lynnette Wright, FSA.

During the season, they sell fresh pressed apple cider, candy apples, caramel popcorn, and other apple related baked goods in their farm store, including a Thanksgiving favorite, apple pie.

To further grow their business, the Behling family started 6 Acres Farm Brewery in 2019, naming it after the original six-acre farm. The Behlings are in the process of building a separate brewery site for tasting and events located near those original six acres.

The brewery draws from local sources, using fruit from the farm and purchasing hops from another area farm. “You can only be an expert in so many things,” Eric said.

Dealing with Disaster

Over the years Behlings have participated in several different USDA programs. Eric says that he is especially thankful for USDA programs that have helped his farm overcome mother nature’s unpredictable weather.

While they insure their apples through federal crop insurance, the Behlings annually enroll in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program to protect their pumpkins, winter squash, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries against natural disasters that result in lower yields or crop losses. Administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, this program covers crops where federal crop insurance is not available.

USDA programs have helped Behling Orchards overcome mother nature’s unpredictable weather. Photo by Lynnette Wright, FSA.

FSA’s Tree Assistance Program has also helped the family replace trees that were damaged or destroyed by natural disasters. They have used this program several times over the years, including in 2017 when they experienced wide-spread fire blight, and in 2019 when they lost trees due to excessive rain.

Pollinators are one of the most important components for success on an orchard. The Behlings have 40 colonies of honeybees and rent another 100 colonies to ensure adequate pollination. The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program has been an effective tool for the operation considering its location.

Behling Orchards is located near the western end of Lake Ontario, and while the Great Lake air creates ideal growing conditions for apples, it also creates numerous multi-feet lake-effect snow events and frigid temperatures in the winter. ELAP has helped the Behling family replace colonies and hives lost to damaging weather.

“USDA programs work as they are designed to,” Eric said. “They soften the blow of the ever-constant weather challenges. They offer many resourceful tools for farmers.”

More Information

Each Friday visit local farms, ranches, forests, and resource areas through our Fridays on the Farm stories. Meet farmers, producers and landowners who are working to improve their operations with USDA programs.

USDA offers a variety of risk management, disaster assistance, loan, and conservation programs to help agricultural producers in the United States weather ups and downs in the market and recover from natural disasters as well as invest in improvements to their operations. Learn about additional programs.

For more information about USDA programs and services, contact your local USDA service center.

Lynnette Wright is the communications coordinator for FSA in New York.

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