Orchard Life: Planting Trees Pt. 2 (a 4 part series) Deciding What to Plant

7/9/2018 - 2:56:26 PM

“Planting is really one of my favorite times of the year. There’s just, I don’t know, something exciting about birth, and that’s kinda the equivalent here in the orchard. You put a tree in the ground and it’s dormant and it looks dead. After a bit it starts coming to life. Those little things take a decent amount of care the first couple of years, but it’s just fun watching them grow.” Clair Kauffman Orchard Manager | Kauffman’s Fruit Farm & Market, Inc.

Given the importance of this subject to our business, it seemed like a good idea to talk to Clair about our replanting program. Over the course of this 4-Part Series, he will fill us in on all the details that must be considered when planting in the orchard.

In part one, When, Where, & What to Plant, we got a bird’s eye view of the process. The weather decides when it happens. Our planting cycle determines which orchards need new trees and what kind.

Here in part two, Deciding What to Plant, we delve into the reasons for what was planted, the driving factors and considerations. This may be one of the most difficult aspects of planting each year. It involves trying to predict what will be popular in the next 5-10 years. Analysis of current trends, understanding your crop status, tracking sales, and many other factors must be considered.

Q:     Why did you plant what you planted this year?

The goal is to meet market demand in about 5-7 years from now. Some of what we planted is to replace things that are just about to come out or things that we sense we could sell more of in the future. So, it’s a bit of a guessing game, especially since the consumer changes their mind so often. But it does have a little bit of logic to it, because we can look at our entire acreage and say, “Well, we’d always like to have so many acres of Golden Delicious, and we’d always like to have so many acres of Fuji in production.” And then as we pull blocks out we’re planning ahead to make sure that there’s another block going in that has Fuji in it or Golden Delicious prior to those coming out of production, so the other trees are several years old by the time that transition happens. So that gives you a little bit of an idea.

So, in the whole replant program, we shoot for about 5% per year. That gives you a 20-year rotation. That way, while we often have trees that are older than 20 years on our farm, it gives us the flexibility to not have an orchard that’s too aged and has a lot of holes in the orchard—whether it’s trees that died or what not. That way a particular orchard can be at its peak production. If it’s trailing off in production, we have a plan to replace it. That’s part of it, and also the 5%/year helps us to keep up with market trends. However, it’s kind of on the slow end of that because markets trends happen faster, but it’s all you can do to really do well with return on investment.

We did have some new varieties of apples that we put in, and I’d love to say a few words about them. While Nittany and Goldrush are not new, we are increasing the acreage on those because we feel they are excellent varieties—excellent late season varieties—exceptional flavor, and good storability. These would be a better storage apple than possibly a Fuji, a Stayman or a Golden Delicious. Goldrush you have some familiarity with, [Jeff,] and Nittany is a lot like the Pink Lady. We have two new varieties that we put in, EverCrisp® and Arkansas Black.

EverCrisp® is a newly patented variety that comes out of the Midwest. It has Honeycrisp and Fuji parentage. If you like the texture of a Honeycrisp and the flavor of a Fuji, you got it in an EverCrisp®. It has incredible storability and typically is a bit sweeter than a Fuji. Yeah, it’s a great apple. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I’ve tasted it myself. It is certainly phenomenal, and I’m excited about seeing that in our orchard. We have to be members of the association that developed it. Now that we have that tree on our farm, we pay a yearly membership fee to the breeders.

EverCrisp® apples | Photo courtesy of EverCrisp®

Arkansas Black is a heritage variety, so it’s not new, it’s just new for us. It is an apple I’ve had my eye on because it’s a very late season apple. Again, it has excellent storability, has a depth of flavor you would expect from a heritage apple. It’s very full flavor. It’s very tart and really, really good for baking. It’s also an excellent cider variety (as is Goldrush). I enjoy eating it fresh because I like a hard apple that is also very tart. It has a unique coloring. It’s called Arkansas black for a reason. It has almost like a very dark maroon color—purple, black, red. Throw those three colors together and you’ve got the idea of Arkansas black’s coloring; and it’s 100% coloring. I’m especially excited about these two varieties. We’ll have to wait a couple years before we see those in production.

Arkansas Black apple | Photo courtesy of Smedette

As you can see from Clair’s comments, one of the many joys of growing fruit trees is the incredible history and variety which we are privileged to steward while providing real and delicious food to so many people. Being part of such an enterprise is deeply rewarding and quite an honor.

Be on the lookout for part three in our series The Planting Process - Tree Health and Yield. We will discover some of the significant factors of the planting process. Considerations of what’s best for the trees figures prominently in the techniques being used.

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