Good Fruit Grower

September 2012

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Organic Ag Organic replant CHALLENGE M As a small grower, Mike Brownfield has relied on direct sales to sustain his family farm, but there are other challenges. by Geraldine Warner ike Brownfield's orchard has been cultivated organically for almost 40 years. In recent times, Brownfield has bene- fited from a number of new tools that make organic production less problematic. But there's one aspect of organic production that remains a chal- lenge, and that's replanting. There is not yet an organic-approved method to overcome replant disease. Replant disease occurs in orchards where fruit trees "The direct marketing is a huge part of it for us." —Mike Brownfield (apples, pears, cherries, etc.) are planted into ground where tree fruits previously grew. Though the previous trees grew normally, new trees planted into the same ground don't grow as well and are less productive. It's estimated that the loss in productivity can reduce the grower's revenue by about $40,000 per acre over the life of the orchard, David Granatstein, sustainable agriculture specialist with Washington State University, reported during an Inter- national Organic Fruit Research Sympo- The Wonder Weeder has cultivating heads that roll along the ground and eliminate vegetation. Designed to avoid tree damage, they also open up vole burrows and expose the animals to predation. The cultivating can be done at the same time as mowing and blowing the clippings into the tree row. fumigation, which is a non selective treatment, works well. Dr. Mark Mazzola, plant pathologist with the U.S. sium this summer. The symposium agenda included a visit to Brownfield's orchard. Replant disease is caused by a complex of microorgan- isms that build up in the soil around the tree roots. Because the mix of organisms can vary from site to site, Department of Agriculture in Wenatchee, Washington, has been researching alternatives to fumigation that might work in organic agriculture and has had good results with preplant treatments of seed meals of the mustards Brassica juncea, Brassica napus, and Sinapsis alba. Seed meal is what remains after oil is extracted from the seeds. However, the seed meals are not yet approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use as pesticides. Granatstein said, lacking an organic treatment, grow- ers often take the blocks they intend to replant out of organic certification, then fumigate the ground and begin the transition back to organic, which takes three years. By the time the orchard begins producing a commercial crop, it should be certified. Brownfield said that's just what he's done, despite the copious amount of paperwork it involved. He found fumigation made a huge difference in a block of Blondee on Malling 9 Nic 29 rootstocks now in its second leaf. "This is the most successful block I have ever had," he told symposium participants when they visited his orchard. He fumigated and added lots of chicken- manure-based compost, and had good quality trees to begin with. He fumigated in the spring, which seemed to get the trees off to a better start than the fall fumigation he's done in the past. He seeds alfalfa and clover in the alleys, which reduces the amount of compost that needs to be applied to the trees. Diversity Brownfield, who farms about 50 acres, said growing a diversity of fruit and selling about a third of the produc- tion himself have been keys to sustaining the business. He's not trying to get bigger, but is trying to maximize the value per acre. His father, John, established the orchard in 1972 and began organic farming a couple of years later in an effort to find a healthier way to farm. In 1987, the farm was the first to become certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Brownfield grows apples, pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots. He packs and markets about a third of the apples, 15 percent of the pears, and all of the peaches, nectarines, and apricots himself as a way to bring more dollars back to the farm. The rest are packed and sold by Stemilt Growers, Inc., in Wenatchee. Brownfield supplies many of the retail food coopera- tives in western Washington, outside the Seattle area, with apples and pears, driving over the Cascade Mountains to deliver them every week for a six-month season. He sells most of his stone fruit locally. 32 SEPTEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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