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Excavator rapidly levels aging orchards

With harvest finished, fruit growers plant newest varieties


Capital Press

EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. -- The last Fuji apples were picked in Mountain View Orchard on Nov. 6 and two weeks later the trees that bore them were ripped out.

Single swings of an excavator bucket knocked over as many as a half-dozen trees, some with trunks 8 to 9 inches thick. Like a giant munching leafy greens, the bucket grabbed several trees at a time, ripped them and their roots from the ground and dropped them in piles.

The operator, 32-year-old Aaron Krause, owner of Krause Enterprises, Wenatchee, handled the 315D Cat excavator like he was born on it.

"I try to set the bar pretty high," he said. "I've been on it since I was a kid. If I'm not fast and efficient, I won't make any money."

Three rows at a time, he demolished the 6-acre block of Fuji in one day. Farther uphill, 2 acres of Tieton cherries trees were burning in piles. Krause had torn them out the day before.

The Tieton stand will be replaced with Rainier and the Fuji stand with the newer Kanzi variety, said Mario Diaz, who manages the orchard for the Wade family. The Fuji was an older strain and not the best in color, he said. Kanzi is a European variety managed in North America by Columbia Fruit Packers Inc., Wenatchee, which is managed by Mike Wade.

The scene of tree removal in the Wade orchard is being played out in other orchards throughout Central Washington this time of year. Barely done with harvest, growers are already pruning trees for next year's crop and, like the Wades, switching out varieties.

"I started last Monday (Nov. 12) and have done about 50 acres (of tree removal) so far. That's about normal," Krause said. "I just finished pulling 15 acres for Auvil Fruit Co."

Krause prefers to get rolling as quickly as possible after harvest so his workload doesn't pile up in the spring. His total removal acreage varies and growers typically hire him to do all the work through planting except for fumigation.

Growers don't have excavators and large tractors to rip the ground for replanting. Krause offers both.

Krause and Diaz will burn the piles, checking with the state Department of Ecology to make sure it's a burn day -- that air quality is good enough and winds don't exceed 25 mph.

Burning is half the cost of chipping, Krause said.

After burning, Krause will deep-shank rip the ground with two passes with his tractor to get any last roots and debris and loosen the soil for planting. Discing is next. Then the ground is fumigated to kill bacteria and ripped one more time to aerate it before spring planting.

Loose ground, he said, also gives new trees a one- to two-year jump in getting established for fruit production because their roots don't have to work as hard.


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