Grower of the Year

Grower of the Year

Steve Black of Raemelton Farm possesses a fearless drive to implement unconventional production practices.

February 9, 2017
Kelli Rodda
Industry News People Plants Production

Undaunted by words like experimental or uncharted, Steve Black, founder of Raemelton Farm, boldly executes innovative systems at his B&B nursery in Adamstown, Md.

From the road, it may look like a typical nursery, but it’s the antithesis of ordinary. There are trees lined up in rows, tractors parked on site, crew members pruning or scouting – the classic nursery scene. But on closer inspection, the farm is home to several leading-edge procedures, especially Black’s latest endeavor.

In early 2016, he introduced to the market USDA certified organic B&B, landscape-ready trees – a first for the industry.

“Consumers are increasingly interested in how the things they buy are produced,” Black says. “Amazon Prime has a service that tells you what aquifer the water in your baby wipes comes from. Plant production has been behind the black curtain. But now consumers want to know about pollinator protection and water conservation. This all fed into the idea to produce a tree in an incredibly sustainable way.”

He chose the USDA organic certification because it’s recognizable and it’s a confirmation of the steps he’s taking in production.

“If you don’t have a third-party verification, it’s just a statement,” he says.

Black dedicated about 3 acres of his 100-acre nursery to organic production, with another 1½ acres currently in transition. And Black is ready to add more organic production once it transitions from a niche market.

Editor's note: Read the full article in our January issue to learn how he implemented the organic production process, and how weed control, soil health, and pest and disease management in an organic operation differ from traditional nursery production.

While Black and his team may have to spend more time planning and thinking about the organic production processes, he’s able to charge about 30 percent more for the product.

“The 30-percent price bump for our organic trees is about the same as what the market supports for organic fruits and vegetables,” he says. “I get to charge more, the landscaper gets to charge more, and the IGC gets to charge more.”

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Photos by Larry Canner