Good Fruit Grower

February 2013

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Page 33 of 55

WIND machines ind machines have been a skyline feature in orchards and vineyards in the Pacific Northwest and California for a long time, but now they're sweeping into apple orchards in Michigan and New York at a rapid pace. It's not a case of locking the barn after the horse is gone. Yes, growers in the Midwest and Great Lakes states were hurt badly by freezes in April 2012, but they were making the move to wind machines even before that. Increasingly, growers realized they had to protect the ever-costlier investments they were making in new, modern orchards. Apple packers and sellers were telling them they needed a stable crop of apples every year if they were to market them effectively. The graph depicting Michigan apple production over the years looks like the teeth of a saw, spiking up and down. Freezes in Michigan last year cut production 89 percent to less than 3 million bushels, but many now believe Michigan could produce a crop of 35 million bushels in a good year. Similarly in New York, production was halved to 15 million bushels last year, but many believe the state has the capacity to produce 40 million bushels. New York produced 30 million in 2011, and Michigan hit 30 million in 2010. The uneven production problem has been getting worse, not better— the spikes are more pronounced—so growers are looking toward freeze protection, and predominantly, they're choosing wind machines. "Demand has been pretty high—so high, we're opening a shop in Michigan," said Scott Howard, vice president of installation and services at Cascade Wind Machine Service in Yakima, Washington. Cascade is a sister company—the sales and service arm—of Orchard-Rite, also in Yakima, which builds the wind machines. Howard wouldn't say how many wind towers the company has sold or installed—"a lot" was his description. But at the start of the new year, by Richard Lehnert Cascade was to open a sales and service operation in Caledonia, Michigan, to provide service support to growers in the East. They have two such service centers in both California and Washington now. Orchard-Rite has dealers in Ontario, Canada, the Southeast, and in foreign countries. Howard said growers from the eastern United States had been flying to Washington all last year to look at the Orchard-Rite plant and visit Cascade Wind Machine Service. To get an idea of how growers are moving, consider the case of David Rennhack, a grower in Hart, Michigan. He put in an Orchard-Rite wind machine in 2008, added a second in 2009, a third in 2011, and then five more last summer. "It costs too much money to grow fruit these days not to have a crop," he said. "We've been moving to a lot of high-quality varieties of fresh apples, and to keep your markets, you've got to keep your packers supplied." Rennhack has been growing fruit for 30 years. His farm is virtually in the city of Hart, and his family operates a farm market right on main street just a few hundred feet from the orchards. They sell apples, peaches, and cherries, and also grow and sell vegetables—sweet corn, melons, and pumpkins. (continued on page 36) David Rennhack says wind machines saved at least a part of his crop last year. He had three machines, but after the freezes, he bought five more. Photo by RichaRd LehneRt Photo by RichaRd LehneRt Growers need stable production and can't afford freeze-outs that disrupt markets as well as their pocketbooks.

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