Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Crossroads

We have been at a crossroads about our apples.  In one direction, we were looking at continuing to grow apples as a commercial venture.  In the other, we remove the rest of the orchard, keeping a bit for ourselves, walk away from the idea that we could make a go of the apple game, and focus on livestock.

For a couple of pretty positive and optimistic people, it took a lot to bring us to this point, but three months of dreading the rain because of the disease pressures it would bring did a lot of the driving.  I spent over a dozen 13-hour days on the tractor spraying in this period, though not a single one of these days passed without a breakdown, either of my sprayer or my tractor.  These breakdowns added to our stress, as the organic orchard is unforgiving when it comes to timing of sprays.

We thought about just going over to spray free, but an unhealthy monoculture is still a monoculture, and black spot will deform your fruit, reduce how much you grow, and damage the health of the trees, not to mention the effects of codling moth, wooly aphid, and powdery mildew.

The Christmas period gave us a good opportunity to step back and weigh all these things up, and for now we have decided to continue to grow apples commercially.  But for this to happen, a few things need to change.  Firstly we need to remove more of the orchard.  We have decided that we want to care for 9 hectares of apples, and do the best that is possible with just the two of us, not look after 12 hectares while doing a bad job of it because we are overextended.  So reducing the amount of orchard we have retained is an important part of this.  We may go further, but this is where it will be for now.

The other thing that needed to change was our equipment.  Breakdowns are going to happen, but they will happen more often with gear that is 20 years old that has been poorly maintained (if at all).  And the simple fact is the organic orchard doesn’t forgive delays, for any reason.  So we bit the bullet and invested in new equipment, specifically a new tractor and a new sprayer.  The tractor will change my work environment for the better (especially in the rain and during the hayfever season), and the new sprayer will reduce the amount of time we spend filling by a third, a time saving of about one and a half hours every day we spray.  Plus, they should all but eliminate breakdowns.  And we always have the old tractor and sprayer there as backup there as well.  I hesitated a bit writing this post, as people can be a bit weird when you buy new gear, a bit of that green-eyed monster that lives in small towns I guess.  But we have it, there's no point denying it, so we may as well move on with our farming.

It was a big investment, one that we hope pays dividends in our apple futures.  But before we can think about our apple futures we still have to deal with our apples present.  This season’s harvest will start in earnest in about two weeks.  I hope we can cope, we picked virtually no bins last year, and should be doing over 500 this year!  Well, there is only one way to find out… stay tuned.

It is a Landini, an 85 horsepower orchard tractor

Hopefully it will be the boy's someday

For him to have an apple future, we had to do it!

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