Not complete, but getting there. Corporate investment in Washington apple orchards I mean. Back from International Fruit Tree Association summer tour, July 17-20, 2022. Starting out with a day spent in the Pasco/Eltopia/Moses Lake area and ending up with a day in/near Quincy. I skipped out on the final day cherry or pear tour up near Wenatchee as I had some personal business to take care of up in the Brewster area with Honeybear Brands/Pazazz apples and at Lone Point Cellars. OK, back to the IFTA tour with a few take-aways before I get to some of the orchard stop highlights.
- Yes, corporate/private investments are taking over what were family orchards, and/or already consolidated orchard "ranches." The investment game is huge now, with orchards summarily being removed and replanted by these outside investors, lots of money, and it remains to be seen how it will all play out in the long run. Water rights play into acquisition decisions as water is like gold out there. (Although it's copious if you got the rights.) No doubt the nature of the Washington apple industry has changed in recent years big time.
- The metal Auvil-style V-trellis remains popular, largely because it is the most productive per acre. But it presents some labor and automation challenges still.
- The WA-38 'Cosmic Crisp' thing has been a bit of a bust, ultimate outcome still TBD. But there are up to 20 million (or as "few" as 10 million depending on who you talk to?) trees in the ground, representing a significant piece of the WA apple production pie when it all comes into production. There are production issues, however, mostly shy bearing and some quality issues. Tree training practices are debatable and prices for Cosmic Crisp do not make up for the shortcomings so far. Unlike the also troublesome Honeycrisp but at least the the price is better there.
- The apple crop is off, maybe 110 million bushels vs. a more 'normal' 125? A cold spring including up to a foot of snow in April in places was suggested as one culprit, but last summer's extreme heat in June may have hindered fruit bud development too, a double "whammy?" Honeycrisp blocks were all light, except some I saw up in Brewster. Let's not even talk about the dismal cherry harvest, although again it was better up 'North.'
OK, here's a brief summary of the individual tour stops, beginning with Day 1...
In Pasco at Hayden Orchard, grower of organic apples and cherries, we looked at a cherry rootstock grower trial, the darfing cherry rootstocks being from Michigan State University (Amy Iezzoni). Cass, Clare, Clinton, Crawford, and Lake (named after Michigan counties) rootstocks. Not really sure what they are looking for other than an alternative to Mazzard that might be a better fit on this V-trellis? Some talk of the new Coral Champagne cherry which they really like.
|Denny Hayden, Hayden Orchard in his V-trellis harvested cherry block|
Still in Pasco, at Douglas Fruit Orchard, WA-38 apple marketed as 'Cosmic Crisp' (CC) was the center of attention. A young (3rd-leaf, 4th-leaf?), lightly cropped planting of WA-38 on four different rootstocks -- M.9-337, B.10, B.9, and G.11 -- looked OK to me, although there was some blind wood in his V-trellis and trees were kind of wayward 'lanky?' Apparently that is part of the training problem dealing with WA-38, it is tip-bearing, click pruning might be the solution? It's also been shy-bearing, not heavy-setting and per acre production is lacking so far. The blind wood may have been on purpose as it looked like branches were being trained to the V-trellis wires keeping the windows "clean." Apparently sunburn and fire blight are also issues with CC. I am not sure we saw another CC planting on the rest of the tour, but I undersand there are some good CC blocks where trees have indeed reached the top wire. I did see a lot of 'Enterprise' growing characteristics in these trees, one of CC's parents. It's literally still a (up to) 20 million tree learning experiment, that is "what is the the best way to deal with CC?"
|Garrett Henry at Douglas Fruit Orchard discusses pros and cons of WA-38|
|Young V-trellis WA-38 at Douglas Fruit Orchard. Note lanky tree bottoms and blind wood.|
|No WA-38 to be found here at Cameron, just rootstocks growing. Well, it was suppose to be WA-38!|
Leaving Cameron Nursery, and after a bit of a wayward bus ride, we arrived (eventually) just down the road at Columbia Reach Chiawana Orchards where all things orchard tech awaited us. First an introduction to the "Smart Orchard" Project, a collaboration of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Washington and Oregon State Univerisities, and Innov8.ag to "sensorize" the orchard. Sensorize meaing various sensors in the trees, in the soil, and in the air - weather; soil mapping, chemistry, and water; plant growth and stress. Lots of data with analytics and artificial intelligence to bring about better (smarter?) orchard management decisions? I was a little befuddled because I did not see it all coming together yet. And something that looked like a medieval torture device measuring just one apple's miniscule growth (and loss of growth?) spurts? Maybe they had such multiple devices? And maybe it is all in the name of science and investigation? OK, I will buy it, but some of it seemed excess. Then, Innov8 Ag showed off their ATV's equipped with many kinds of cameras and LIDAR and GPS and on-board computers. (What happens when something breaks?) It all works eventually I suppose, and mapping using data is no doubt a nearly mature technology and I could see the benefits of those colored yield (among other things) maps. Visualization and artificial intelligence are hot topics these days. But how much does it cost? I think that is what most were thinking. Looks like a no-brainer maybe for these larger corporate orchards, but I hope the technology can be adapted for smaller growers with scaled-down equipment and cost? In fact I/we (the PACMAN team) have been working with Farm Vision Technologies using a hand-held unit that provides similar functionality on a smaller scale and have been impressed so far.
Done with the "smart' orchard we were off to a pizza supper hosted by Automated Ag (home of the Bandits) in Moses Lake. I had another dinner date so I missed it, but not so our fearless IFTA Education Director Dr. Greg Lang who made sure he had a good choice of pizzas!
|Wow, look at those pizza toppings! says Dr. Greg Lang at dinner hosted by Automated Ag|
OK, that was all Day 1 (Monday, July 18). Day 2 (Tuesday, July 19) we were up in the Wenatchee-Quincy area. First stop for my bus was RJK Farms where a rather animated Richard Karstetter -- along with his two sons (who were much quieter) -- talked about family dynamics and farm transition, along with some irrigation technology and other automation advances to make work life more efficient and engaging for the next generation. Unfortunately, I thought their Honeycrisp crop was a bit lacking, but we have already been there, most likely adverse weather related.
|Richard Karstetter at RJK Farms. He had a lot to say, believe me! Interesting guy...|
Next stop for Bus 2 was McDougall & Sons Orchard. A shade cloth/hail protectant retractable netting was the highlight of the stop and was demonstrated by the McDougall & Sons team. If left in place pre-harvest, the shade cloth can hinder red color development, hence the need for it's retractability. McDougall & Sons is a vertically integrated grower/packer/ shipper in the Wenatchee/Quincy area with 4,000 acres of apples, pears, and cherries in the ground. Yikes!
After a BBQ pork sandwich lunch and a quick tour of the Starr Ranch Growers pack house (it was amazing, and home of Juici apples) we arrived at an AgriMACS, Inc. managed Honeycrisp block in Quincy where we enjoyed some real shade while the AgriMACS staff and Dr. Lee Kalscits from WSU extolled the virtues of overhead shade cloth netting to both prevent sunburn and hail damage (at least when it is installed in time). Last time we were in Washington for the IFTA summer tour we looked at different color netting, but it looks like the white color has become the standard. Interestingly, behind us was a block of Honeycrisp planted on G.890 rootstock, hoping for more vigor I guess? But the M.9's generally looked pretty good wherever we went (as long as there is no fire blight).
|Shade cloth that serves double-duty hail protection at AgriMACS, Inc. managed Honeycrisp block. Inset is hail damage from June where netting was not installed in time.|
We are getting there, the final (at least for me) IFTA summer tour stop was Dale Goldy's G2 Orchards. Planted with 'Minneiska' (SweeTango) trees from his own Gold Crown Nursery, it's a 'pedestrian' orchard with -- believe it or not -- six feet between rows and tree height limited to app. seven feet. I believe these trees, mostly on G.935 rootstock, were planted 4.5 feet apart with some training of branches to the horizontal wires. I saw a lot of shoot growth coming into the row, I told Dale to get a hedger and don't look back! A lot of late hand thinning had been done. Interesting for sure, I did appreciate the overhead mist cooling being on as it was getting hot! Oh, we also had a brief look at a similar 'Hapi' pear block and some equipment modified to fit these truly 'dwarf' blocks.
|Pedestrian 'Minnesika' orchard block at G2 Orchards. Note the late hand-thinned apples on ground? These apples might have been only a month away from harvest? Check out the misting video below, ahhh....|