By DAN WHEAT
QUINCY, Wash. -- Freshly tilled fields are the scene of much activity at the corner of White Trail Road and state Highway 28 a few miles west of Quincy.
A small army of workers assembles at 7 a.m. for another day of planting apple trees.
Tractors, three abreast, dig rows 8 inches deep. Men riding on the back place trees in the ditch every two to three feet, depending on the variety. They take care to keep roots running with the ditch and graft unions above the soil. Angled wheels close the ground around the trees.
Workers follow, checking spacing, tree height and stomping the dirt around each tree.
Like much in the tree fruit industry, planting is labor intensive. At this site, 60 workers plant 12 to 13 acres a day. They started March 11 and aim to finish 175 acres on March 29.
It's the new Paradise Prospector Orchard for McDougall & Sons Inc., Wenatchee. The land grew corn and potatoes under different ownership last season.
McDougall is planting Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp and Ambrosia. The work will be followed by a month or more of stringing trellis wire, clipping trees to wires and installing drip irrigation, said Raul Barajas, assistant manager of Quincy orchards for McDougall & Sons.
Many growers are replacing older trees with newer strains of varieties and newer varieties this spring, but McDougall is among the few doing that and adding acreage.
"We're trying to build up our tonnage," said Scott McDougall, co-president. "You have to be a certain size to be in the industry and supply your customer base."
Some Yakima companies have aggressively planted new acreage in recent years but that may slow "until we figure out how big these crops are going to be and how they will get sold," he said.
While people have paid as much as $15,000 an acre near Royal City to develop new orchards, whether it is worth it depends on a company's business model, he said.