Standing Still Is Not an Option in Fruit Growing

Standing Still Is Not an Option in Fruit Growing

One afternoon in October I was driving on an overpass above Interstate 5 at the extreme south end of California’s San Joaquin Valley when traffic was halted for a moment. I looked around and was struck by the fact that there were new plantings of tree nuts fanning out diagonally in all four directions, pretty much as far as the eye could see. The effect was almost dizzying, and one I had experienced in other parts of the country, albeit in other forms. There is a LOT of planting going on all over this great country.

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From the millions of ‘Cosmic Crisp’ apple trees planted in Washington, to all the slick new orchards in such states formerly known for processing apples, such as New York and Michigan, the level of planting is intense. Which means the competition is going to ratchet up even more when all these new trees start bearing fruit.

It’s particularly stark here in California, where I have found myself crisscrossing the state visiting growers and attending industry conferences a lot more lately. A lack of suitable soils in certain areas haven’t stopped enterprising growers. Ground too salty for almonds? No problem, pistachios can thrive in the more problematic soils. Planting must continue.

Pistachios are a different crop for any number of reasons, from the sex of the trees coming into play, to the fact they are the most precocious of trees. Unlike other orchards, where growers can get a crop in just a couple of years, pistachio growers must wait several years. The implication is clear, though the planting is heavy now, the big bump in production won’t come for about a half-dozen years.

The upshot of all this is that competition among fruit and nut growers is only going to get more intense in the future. Any grower not looking to step up his game in this environment may be in for a nasty surprise in the not-too-distant future.

Jon McClarty and Drew Ketelsen are well aware that they need to do just that. The two stone fruit growers featured in this month’s cover story are concerned about the consequences of doing nothing, so they’re planting to prepare for mechanization. With machines that don’t currently exist.

They obviously can’t be certain their efforts will pay off. In fact, they are fully aware that they are on the “bleeding edge” with their new planting plan — which encompasses all of their acreage — and it may well provide more benefit to other growers who can learn and profit from their experience.

But as Mark Twain once said: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I don’t know if McClarty and Ketelsen will be successful, but you have to admire their pluck. They don’t know if they will succeed, but they do know what will happen if they don’t try.