TRAVERSE CITY — Young farmers from northwest Michigan visited farms on the west side of the state this past week.
Many participants were members of the New Farmer Assistance and Resource Management, an effort put together by Nikki Rothwell, Erin Lizotte, and Rob Sirrine to support and educate young farmers of northwest Michigan on leadership, agricultural production, farm management, and marketing. Participants visited eight locations to learn about high density apple and cherry orchard production, new harvesting approaches, apple packing line technology, growing and marketing hops, and creative ideas for farm markets.
The first stop was in Grant, where Pete and Bill Nyblad, apple growers from west Michigan, gave a guided tour of their farm’s high density apple orchard. On the tour, Phil Schwallier, an Extension Educator from Michigan State University, emphasized the importance of selecting rootstocks and varieties that keep trees at a manageable size for high density systems.
At Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., Phil Brown of Phil Brown Welding, provided a demonstration of the innovative Dietrich, Brown, and Rasch apple harvester in a high density apple orchard. The harvester is a tractor-pulled hydraulic platform that supports up to four pickers at once.
“I was really quite impressed with the DBR harvester,” said farmer Garrett Coggon. “It could be adjusted to position workers right in the canopy within easy reach of the fruit. Also, fruit quality held up well through the harvester.”
Don Armock, President of Riveridge Marketing Inc., gave the group a tour of Riveridge’s high density sweet cherry orchard. The orchard is comprised of seven cherry varieties that were planted in 2008 and 2009. Don said he paid off the orchard this year due to its high profitability. His success story made the thought of planting high density sweet cherries attractive, but growers identified potential pitfalls.
The close proximity of the trees is not conducive for mechanized harvesting using the traditional tree shakers. Therefore, a good labor force for harvest is required, a challenge that many Michigan growers faced this year.
The group also gathered at Rasch Farms in Conklin for dinner and discussion of the future of Michigan’s fruit industry with west Michigan growers and Michigan State University Extension educators.
The following day the New FARM group visited Elite Apple Packing Company LLC, where they observed new apple packing technology in action. This packing facility is the newest in Michigan and uses the latest apple sorting and scanning technology.
“The tour was great,” said Travis Bratschi, a New FARM member and grower from Williamsburg. “It showed how progressive farmers are coming with technology, especially within the apple industry.”