Capital Press | Orchards, Nuts and Vines Capital Press Sun, 26 Mar 2017 07:47:24 -0400 en Capital Press | Orchards, Nuts and Vines Hazelnut grower finds satisfaction in service Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:42:36 -0400 Denise Ruttan Giving back is important to longtime hazelnut grower Wayne Chambers, who has presided over his 145-acre orchard for the last 50 years with his wife, Joann.

From testing new hazelnut varieties for Oregon State University, his alma mater, to donating nuts to the culinary program at Linn-Benton Community College, to mentoring rookie growers, Chambers is always willing to lend a hand.

Chambers has grown all of the new varieties released by OSU in the last 30 years in his orchard near Albany, Ore. Over the years he has probably tested about 150 different varieties in on-farm trials, Chambers said.

His assistance to OSU’s hazelnut breeding program arose out of loyalty to his alma mater.

“I graduated from OSU in horticulture in 1963 and I remained friends with the professors,” Chambers said.

His interest in the research also came from curiosity. “It’s interesting to see the variations between the varieties,” Chambers said. “I can take grafted trees on different rootstocks so I can see what effect the rootstock had on the scion of the tree, and how some of the weaker varieties can be improved with stronger rootstock.”

For the last 20 years Chambers has worked with OSU hazelnut breeder Shawn Mehlenbacher. Chambers’ orchard has provided one of the final testing grounds of a long, arduous journey in the life of a new hazelnut variety. Before reaching his soil, that tree once began as a seed, selected from a pool of 4,500 seeds, and has been pared down until Chambers could plant 10 seeds.

“It takes about 17 years from the time you make the original cross with the known parents until you release it as a variety,” Chambers said.

Part of the driving force behind that research into new varieties involves a growing desperation among those orchardists who had planted older varieties such as Barcelona. All legacy growers know the devastation that Eastern filbert blight has brought to Willamette Valley hazelnuts and Chambers is no exception.

In fact many older orchards have closed shop because of it. The older trees like Barcelona are more susceptible to this disease, which can spread through an orchard like wildfire. He will probably be planting new varieties soon and removing more susceptible varieties.

Partly because of the new, less susceptible varieties that Chambers helped to test, new growers are taking renewed interest in the crop throughout the valley.

“I’ve had several mentors over the years. Historically in the industry there is a lot of mentoring that goes on and people sharing ideas,” Chambers said. “I’m concerned that’s not going to be happening soon because there are fewer older growers. I can’t envision what’s coming down the road but there is a tremendous amount of interest in planting new varieties.”

Despite his worry for what the future holds, he has fielded calls from several new growers interested in learning more and is always happy to share advice. Part of the growing interest in hazelnuts also has to do with a strong market.

“Over the last several years, the price has been unbelievable. It’s been the best years of our production. After 50 years we’ve hit the jackpot,” Chambers said. “We didn’t really hit the jackpot, but we’re doing fine.”

Despite all its acreage, the orchard is really a small operation. The two main employees are Chambers and his wife, Joann. The partnership is so significant that the name of the farm is in fact W&J Orchards, named after the first initials of this husband and wife team. Joann does the office work and bookkeeping. They have no other full-time employees.

“She keeps me from planting more acres,” Chambers joked.

On the farm these days now Chambers is industriously spending his evenings spraying for Eastern filbert blight “and hoping it does good.” He’s also winding up pruning as well as tree and limb removal and getting ready to fertilize.

Chambers’ generosity does not only extend to his alma mater. He donates all the hazelnuts used by Linn-Benton Community College’s renowned culinary program. He has also donated money for scholarships and purchased equipment.

This is something the Albany grower has done gladly for the last 10 years.

“Years ago I was on the board and I’ve always been in support of the program,” Chambers said. “And I love to eat.”

The program holds a contest every April in which students come up with dishes that star hazelnuts and a panel of judges evaluates which dish tastes best. The Hazelnut Marketing Board awards cash prizes to the winning students.

Throughout all these experiences and despite Eastern filbert blight, the 75-year-old Chambers shows no signs of retiring soon. Orchards are in his blood, for better or worse, and this grower wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cider making comes naturally to orchardist Thu, 14 Apr 2016 10:00:05 -0400 Margarett Waterbury SALEM, Ore. — Kevin Zielinski didn’t set out to be a cidermaker.

“I was already a full-time farmer,” he says. “I didn’t need another job.”

But when Kevin planted French cider apples in his orchard for a winemaker friend in 2000, he was unknowingly planting the seed for the next chapter in his family’s business.

E.Z. Orchards was founded in 1929 by Kevin’s grandfather, Edward Zielinski. The farm began in Sheridan, but moved to its current location just northeast of Salem in 1945, where about 155 acres are now planted to apples, pears, peaches and hazelnuts.

Today, Edward’s grandsons — John, Mark and Kevin Zielinski — run the business, with John managing the farm market and Mark and Kevin splitting orchard duties. Kevin also oversees E.Z. Orchards’ newest project: a line of French-style farmhouse ciders.

When his winemaker friend moved to Eastern Washington before the trees started to bear fruit, Kevin took over the project.

“I’d made low-intervention wines for years, and once I got comfortable with a low-intervention method of making cider, I got interested.” After several years of experimentation, he launched his own brand in 2009.

Unlike many cidermakers, E.Z. Orchards grows its own fruit.

“I still see myself as an orchardist first,” Kevin says. He keeps nutrient levels in the cider orchard low to promote less aggressive fermentation, which he says helps retain more aromatics in the finished product.

“My intention as a cidermaker is to build cider from fruits bred for that purpose. The tannins, aromatics and acid are already there in the fruit.”

The orchard currently grows nine cider apple varieties for its operations: Muscadet de Dieppe, Domaine, San Martin, Yarlington Mill, Marie Menard, Champagne Reinette, Muscadet de Lense, Muscadet de Bernet, Roxbury Russet and Douce Moen.

Some of E.Z. Orchards’ ciders also use apple varieties such as Jonathan, Rome and Golden Delicious.

“Our maritime climate is a lot like Normandy and England, so cider apples do well here,” Kevin says. “They have thicker skin, hardier fruit, and are more pest resistant. Plus we don’t need to worry as much about appearance.”

E.Z. Orchards uses a French technique called methode ancestral that calls for a long, spontaneous primary fermentation that finishes in the bottle and eschews pasteurization. Carbonation happens naturally in the bottle without dosage, or the addition of priming sugar. Too much sugar left in the cider before bottling, and it will explode. Not enough, and the cider will be flat. “That’s probably the most anguishing part,” Kevin says. “Timing is critical.”

The results are delicious. Aromatic, highly effervescent and dry with a subtle, earthy sweetness, E.Z. Orchards’ cider is simultaneously sophisticated and approachable, excellent paired with food yet substantial enough to savor on its own.

Cider remains a relatively small part of E.Z. Orchards’ overall business — Kevin estimates about 10 percent — but it’s growing. E.Z. Orchards’ cider is now distributed in 10 states. Last year, the cider industry saw 15 percent expansion, and national interest in the beverage continues to climb.

“The styles of North American cider are being defined — right now — by modern cider-makers,” Kevin says. “And I’m very interested in how it plays out.”

New citrus labor association aids employers Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:56:55 -0400 Cecilia Parsons Challenges with evolving agricultural labor laws and compensation has led to the formation of a new labor association for the citrus industry.

The California Agricultural Labor Association was created to provide citrus growers, packinghouses and farm labor contractors with up-to-date information about state and federal farm labor regulations.

Laura Brown, California Citrus Mutual’s director of government affairs, said the association would be dedicated to bringing the best labor law information directly to employers.

California’s citrus industry is dependent on a nearly year-round work force. Harvest crews can work nearly 10 months of the year and are typically supplied by the grower’s packinghouse. Some growers and packinghouses employ their own harvest labor. Packinghouses are commonly direct employers of the workers who pack the fruit.

Brown said application of rules can differ from one operation to the next and this new organization can answer questions and determine how rules apply on a case-by-case basis. A single source of information on labor rules can help compliance throughout the industry, she said.

Answering questions about worker health care, sick pay and proposed legislation on piece rate compensation are among the goals of the new organization. Announcement of the new organization was made at the annual Citrus Showcase hosted by the grower organization California Citrus Mutual.

“Piece rate compensation and joint liability are only two labor obstacles that the agriculture industry is struggling to understand and implement,” said Joel Nelsen, California Citrus Mutual president. “Regulatory compliance is constantly evolving and the challenge of maintaining compliance with both state and federal regulations is difficult and taxing. To meet this challenge, the citrus industry formed CALA, which will serve farm labor contractors, growers and packinghouses alike.”

Kevin Severns, manager of a Sunkist packinghouse in Orange Cove, said it is a huge task to keep track of all the labor rules that pertain to agriculture. Check stub information, break time, heat stress rules and compliance with Affordable Health Care Act are all issues for growers, packinghouses and farm labor contractors.

Growers can be liable for labor law violations even if the farm labor contractor is the direct employer. Severns said keeping all parties knowledgeable about compliance is vital to the citrus industry.

Over the next several months, CALA will begin signing up members and hiring an executive director to pull together staffing and programming. The goal is to be fully operational by this fall.

Drought, pest concerns bite into avocados Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:56:32 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Ed McFadden, a third generation California avocado grower, is living his dream.

“I was raised on an avocado and citrus grove in Orange County and then worked in a grove when I graduated from college,” he said. “My wife and I always had the goal of raising our children on a farm and were fortunate to be able to have our own farm. I also manage other groves for long-time partners of our family.”

There are currently about 52,000 acres planted to avocados in California. Avocado trees can bear fruit the year after planting but start producing commercial quantities of fruit after 3-5 years.

“I enjoy the challenge of farming avocados and the lifestyle. I am proud to bring our great California product to the U.S. market and beyond,” he said.

The public loves the deliciously creamy orbs but McFadden, a member of the California Avocado Commission and its former chairman, said there are some misconceptions.

“I would say that the health benefits of avocados are misunderstood,” he said.  “Research has shown that the healthy fats in avocados and the nutrient dense nature of the fruit make it a ‘superfood.’”

Growers have received good returns for their avocados over the past five years and they remain hopeful for a strengthening market for the balance of the season, although imports can be a problem if the market is oversupplied.

“What imports have done for the U.S. market is to give us a year-round supply of avocados and helped stabilize the market,” McFadden said. “The risk of introducing a pest or disease into California from a source outside of the U.S. is always a concern, but so far, safeguards seem to be keeping us safe.”

The good news for California growers is they are close to their market.

“I grow avocados a little over an hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles and millions of eager consumers,” he says.

Despite the rosy picture of growing the popular produce, there are challenges facing the industry.

“We have several challenges that are of concern,” he said. “The drought in California is causing problems on several levels. There are places in a few growing areas where groundwater is dropping to very low levels and wells are going dry. In other parts of the state our wells are low but still producing, but we have had five years of below-average rainfall.”

Avocados grow and produce much better with normal amounts of pure rain leaching the salts out of the grove soils, he says. “Salts that have accumulated in our soils are damaging trees in many regions.”

Another problem is an insect pest that carries a fungal disease that impacts avocados and many other host trees. This tiny beetle, called a shot hole borer, was found in Los Angeles County four years ago and has been spreading through the urban forests since, he says. About a year and a half ago the insect pest was found in San Diego County groves. A few months ago it was found in several areas in Ventura County, he says.

The California Avocado Commission is fighting back. It has spent more than $2.5 million to find ways to control the pest and diseases that it carries. They have also worked to build coalitions at all levels of government to fight the pest.

Tiny pest a big worry for citrus growers Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:55:53 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER In addition to the drought, something else has been on the minds of California citrus growers — a tiny insect that threatens the industry.

The four-year drought has been a challenge, said Kevin Severns, general manager of the Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association.

“The industry lost 15K acres over the past three years due to the drought. But we have had a good year so far with the rain and snowfall,” he said.

“We are not water hogs,” Severns said.

But Severns said the tiny Asian citrus psyllid has growers worried as much as the water supply.

“It is a winged insect that is similar in size to an aphid or smaller so it’s hard to see unless you know what you are looking for,” he said. “It has been in California since 2008.”

The pest can carry Huanglongbing (HLB), a disease that could wipe out the citrus industry. It infects the tree by feeding on it, similar to the way a mosquito infects humans with malaria.”

The good news is almost every place in California has tested negative for the disease. A $25 million state program — funded by grower assessments — helps educate homeowners who have citrus trees in their backyards to report anything suspicious.

Severns said the other frustrating concern is that a tree can be infected several years before it tests positive for the disease.

“HLB is in every citrus growing area of Florida,” he said. “The state’s production is in free-fall because of the disease and is now less than 40 percent of what it once was.”

In an effort to combat the disease, the USDA is using a little wasp imported from Pakistan.

Over 270,000 acres are planted to citrus in California, and 80 percent of the crop is consumed domestically, he said.

Growers are happy with the export markets, Severns said. California sends citrus to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and, surprisingly, China, the biggest citrus producer in the world.

“We are better equipped with our infrastructure and farming practices than China and we have a better product,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a unique climate that nurtures fruit with brilliant flavors. No place in the world can grow the quality of lemons due to dry, hot summers and cool, wet winters.”

“In many respects, California is the Promised Land,” he said. “But, there are some dark clouds gathering and we have to protect what we have.”

Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association is a cooperative citrus packing house in Fresno County, Calif.

The cooperative is owned by more than 50 producers who market their citrus crops through Sunkist Growers Inc.

The current association was formed in 1973 by the consolidation of the Orange Cove Citrus Association, which was founded in 1916, and Sanger Citrus Association, founded in 1920.

It currently serves more than 4,300 member acres in Fresno, Kern, Madera and Tulare counties and packs and sells navel, Valencia and Cara Cara oranges and Minneola tangelos.

Walnut growers fend off fungal disease Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:53:48 -0400 Cecilia Parsons Wetter than normal winters have the potential to unleash a “sleeping giant” of a disease in walnut trees.

Themis Michailides, plant pathologist at the University of California-Davis is warning walnut growers that the canker disease Botryosphaeria, dodged during dry years, could be a factor in tree health this year.

The disease was first discovered in a Butte County, Calif., pistachio orchard in 1983, following a wet winter.

The disease gathered steam in subsequent wet winters and by 1995 had spread from a few trees in Northern California to Southern California walnut production areas.

There was a major epidemic of botryosphaeria in 1998, as the fungi attacked branches and clusters, affecting crop yields and gaining the attention of growers.

At that time, Michailides said, there was no known control other than sanitation practices. Many growers pulled their infected pistachio trees after that epidemic and planted walnuts, not realizing the fungal disease also targeted that crop.

There are 10 species of Botryosphaeria that affect walnut trees, and all walnut cultivars are susceptible to the disease.

Michailides’ research, funded by the California Walnut Board since 2012, has found the fungi infect the nut, move to the peduncle and then spread to the spurs, killing the next year’s buds.

Tulare County farm advisor Elizabeth Fichtner said that several species of the pathogen are associated with branch dieback and bud mortality and shoot and fruit infections in California walnuts.

In the past the dieback has been attributed to shade-out, but Fichtner reports that 84 percent of the walnut samples submitted to the Michailides laboratory at Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier have tested positive for Botryosphaeria or Phomopsis, also a canker disease.

Infected wood, prunings and hulls left in the orchard are a source of the Botryosphaeria spores. Other hosts for the fungi are blackberry. Scale insects increase the potential for infection.

In a presentation at the annual Walnut Day organized by Cooperative Extension farm advisors, Michailides said the fungi spores are both wind- and water-borne with the majority of spores released within 30 minutes of even a short rain shower. Higher temperatures contribute to the spread of infection.

Walnuts are unique, he noted, in that pruning wounds leave trees open to infection for a longer time, increasing the risk of infection.

One of the first steps in management of the disease is to assess disease risk and cultural control. To have an idea of the level of infection in a single orchard, growers can collect 200 buds throughout their orchard from January to March and have them checked for Botryosphaeria using a bud monitoring technique called BUDMON.

There are also effective management practices to suppress the amount of the disease in the orchard. Removal of dead branches, blighted shoots and cankers after winter pruning is essential. Burning is recommended for large branches. Pruning material that is chipped should be disked under. Other management strategies include avoiding irrigation that dampens the tree canopy.

Fungicide sprays also work to control the disease. Growers who want to know the efficacy of particular materials can visit the UC-Davis Integrated Pest Management website to see the chart: Michailides said if only one spray is planned the best time is mid-June to early July.

Unique arrangement helps transition Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:52:50 -0400 CRAIG REED WINSTON, Ore. — In recent years, John James had said several times he was ready to turn his fruit orchard over to somebody younger.

Loriena Hunt and Erin Saylor, who had picked fruit in the James Orchard since they were kids, thought James was joking when he brought the subject up. But last summer during the peak of the harvest, James made it clear he wasn’t joking. He and his wife, Kathy, wanted some help.

“We always thought he was kidding,” Saylor said. “But then he just outright asked if I would do it.”

Hunt got the same question.

The two friends hardly hesitated before partnering up with the Jameses. The two women and their families helped James during the final six weeks of the 2015 summer fruit season, helping to pick and sell the orchard’s peaches, cherries, nectarines, pears and apples at farmers’ markets.

This year the Hunts and Saylors are in a 50-50 partnership with James on the 16-acre orchard of about 1,500 trees for the entire year. James is doing all the tractor work, fertilizing, spraying, irrigating and will cover the expense of electricity, water, fertilizer, farmers’ market fees and fruit boxes.

The Saylors and Hunts will do the pruning, harvesting and selling at a stand at the orchard and stands at the Coos Bay and Grants Pass farmers’ markets. Hunt’s son Theran and his wife, Deborah, have done much of the orchard work, such as pruning, through the winter.

“John wants his orchard to stay in business,” Saylor said. “He really trusts us. He knows our hearts are into it. He’s trying to make it work for us.”

“I’m so excited,” Loriena Hunt said. “I’m so glad God gave us this opportunity. It’s literally a dream come true for me.

“Erin and I are two peas in a pod,” she added. “We are true farm girls.”

Saylor, 35, and Hunt, 43, have known each other for years and both love the farming lifestyle. They each milk cows at their home places, they grow big gardens and they have their own small orchards. They already have farmers’ market experience, selling surplus fruits and vegetables and homemade items at booths.

But working with a 1,500-tree orchard is their biggest farm project to date.

James, who is almost 66, has been growing fruit since 1972. He cut back on his orchard about 10 years ago, taking out some trees to ease his workload. He turned the cleared area into a venue for special events such as weddings and reunions.

“Rather than selling the orchard, I took some trees out,” James said.

James said the women initially wanted to rent the orchard, but James told them they needed to learn the business first. So he partnered with them with the understanding if all goes well, the Hunts and Saylors will take over 100 percent in a year or two.

“These girls are hard-working,” James said. “They wanted to rent the place, but I told them they needed to learn the business first and then they could. I know it is going to work.”

To add to the orchard’s diversity and to add to the inventory available at the markets, the new partners plan to plant strawberries and the vegetables needed to make salsa such as tomatoes, onions and peppers. Loriena Hunt has made and sold salsa at past markets.

“We’ll incorporate some of our own items with the fruit at the stands,” Saylor said.

“It’s overwhelming, but exciting at the same time,” she added. “We’re all on the same page. We wouldn’t do this with anybody else.”

In addition to the stand at the orchard, the partners will sell at the farmers’ markets in Coos Bay, Ore., on Wednesdays and in Grants Pass, Ore., on Saturdays.

Thomas Orchards benefit from unique location Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:51:49 -0400 CRAIG REED KIMBERLY, Ore. — After driving for miles through reddish colored rocky canyons or along rivers with long narrow cattle pastures on either side of the waterways, to come around a corner and see an orchard in the middle of the remoteness is a bit surprising.

But the orchard that lies near Kimberly has been there for 100 years. Kimberly is mainly a rural ranch community in northcentral Oregon with only a small country store and post office to mark the spot.

Oren Kimberly planted the first and only commercial orchard on the narrow valley floor on both sides of the North Fork of the John Day River. The orchard, featuring a variety of fruits, grew to 200 acres.

In 1947, W.B. and Emily Thomas began purchasing the orchard. Today, 100 acres of the orchard remain in the Thomas family and are owned by Jeff and Laura Thomas. Jeff Thomas is a grandson of W.B. and Emily Thomas.

The other 100 acres has been owned by Azure Farms since 2011.

“There’s not another orchard around,” Jeff Thomas said of the remoteness of Kimberly. “There’s a unique micro climate here. It’s 1,800 feet but with a desert climate. It’s a micro climate that allows tree fruits to be grown.”

Thomas said the daytime highs in the summer line up with the temperatures in the fruit growing areas to the north.

“A lot of the temperatures and harvest dates usually line up with the orchards in the Hood River and The Dalles areas,” he said.

Thomas said there have been freezes and crop damage at times over the years, but that is why there is such variety in the orchard. The tree fruits are cherries, apricots, pluots/plumcots, semi-cling peaches, freestone peaches, nectarines, plums/prunes, pears and summer and fall apples. There are also several varieties of each fruit.

“The diversity helps us when there is a freeze,” Thomas said. “But most of the time we get a pretty good crop.”

Thomas Orchards sells its crop to stores in Central and Western Oregon, to stores in Montana, and it has a fruit stand in Great Falls, Mont. The orchard is also open to U-pickers during the harvest season.

Jeff Thomas, 37, grew up in the orchard and had no second thoughts about returning to it after attending Western Oregon University in Monmouth and earning a degree in physical and health education. He married Laura, who earned a degree in education at WOU and is now a teacher in Monument, Oregon, a small community of a couple hundred people several miles upriver from Kimberly.

“I don’t see me doing anything else for the rest of my life,” Jeff Thomas said. “I like the challenges of farming. Every year they are different.”

The work crew still includes Jeff’s parents, John and Lynda Thomas, and his uncle, Jim Thomas. They owned and operated the business for a couple decades after taking it over from W.B. and Emily Thomas.

“My parents and uncle still work full days,” Jeff Thomas said. “They like what they’re doing.”

Thomas said the orchard may remain in the family for another generation. Josh, his 7-year-old son, has already said he wants to be a tree fruit farmer like his dad.

Gebbers Farms: Growing fruit since 1900 Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:50:19 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas BREWSTER, Wash. — One of the largest producers of cherries in the world and one of the top apple growers in the Northwest, Gebbers Farms is a multi-generation family business in north-central Washington.

Cass Gebbers, president, is one of five siblings in his generation.

“We are the fourth generation, and our kids are the fifth. My parents had 20 grandchildren, and 14 of that fifth generation are working in the company,” he said. “We have strong continuity because we have a sixth generation coming on.”

The story of Gebbers Farms is closely linked to the story of the Washington apple.

“My great-grandfather, Dan Gamble, hiked to central Washington from Nova Scotia in 1885 with just a backpack to work in the mines near Harts Pass during the gold rush. After working in gold and silver mines in the Okanogan Valley, he started a sawmill in 1894 at Cactus Canyon near Brewster,” Cass said.

Gamble planted the first orchards around Brewster soon after the turn of the century and built an apple warehouse. His sawmills produced wooden apple boxes for shipping fruit, and he built the first apple packing shed in Brewster in 1918.

The fruit enterprise grew, and today the family orchards are spread over foothills at the base of the Cascade Range and along the highlands around Lake Chelan. The farm is one of the largest suppliers of late-season sweet cherries, and has one of the largest contiguous apple orchards in the world.

“My dad, Dan Gebbers, was a dedicated orchardist. With his business partner and a friend and fellow grower, they brought the first Granny Smith apples into the U.S. My dad and Richard Thompson brought the first Lapin cherries — from British Columbia — which are now a mainstay variety,” Cass said.

“The Granny Smith apples came from Australia. My dad brought them into the U.S. through the Summerland British Columbia Research Center in 1967 and 1968. We still have that original Granny Smith orchard he planted, and it is still commercially productive,” he said.

Granny Smiths were then unheard of in the U.S. The green apples caught on quickly. They offered a way for retailers to break up their shelf space color-wise, and people liked the unique tart taste.

“When my dad brought in those first Granny Smith apples, he became friends with Dr. Lapin at the Summerland Research Center near Kelowna, B.C. He told my dad we should try a new cherry that he’d been developing. Dr. Lapin said these cherries should work nicely for us, because the research center has a climate very similar to ours.”

Dan Gebbers planted his first Lapin cherry orchard in the early 1980s after several years of testing the cherry.

Gebbers Farms now has 12,000 acres of apples and cherries. This area has a perfect climate for fruit. “We have cold winters and warm summers, and large temperature split between warm daytime temperatures and cool nights. This helps finish the apples so they can ripen properly. If it’s warm all the time, day and night, you don’t get good finish on apples or cherries with good internal quality,” he explained.

“My dad brought in some of the first apple pre-sizer equipment from France. He was an innovator in the fruit business.”

Everything about the present orchards is focused toward producing the highest quality fruit with perfect flavor, texture and color.

Agricultural engineers shape the land to create the most effective air flow. The orchards are designed with state-of-the art irrigation systems and maximum access for equipment and harvesting crews.

Technology helps these orchardists work with nature for greatest advantage — for the best angle of seasonal sunlight, wind direction and frost control.

There are many reasons why Gebbers Farms fruit is famous for quality and freshness, and this family takes pride in their efforts.

In its fifth generation, Symms Fruit Ranch thrives Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:49:38 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas This family orchard operation began in 1914 as an 80-acre homestead with 8 acres of fruit trees. It now grows more than 25 varieties of fruit on 5,200 acres, making it one of the top 100 fruit growers and packers in the U.S.

Sally Symms, vice president of sales and marketing, says the original farm was homesteaded by her great-great-grandfather.

“It has grown with each generation. I am the first person in the fifth generation working in the family business,” she says. Currently, the third and fourth generations are still involved.

Climate in this hillside region overlooking the Snake River is perfect for fruit.

“One of the reasons we are so successful in growing tree fruits is our micro climate. Summers are hot during the day and cool in the evenings. Heat during the day helps the acid content in the fruit rise, and cool nights bring out the sugar,” she explains. This makes a perfect balance for flavor and optimum ripening.

“We usually pack between 125,000 and 150,000 cartons of cherries each season, 15,000 cartons of apricots, 500,000 cartons of peaches and smaller quantities of nectarines and plums,” she says. “Apples vary, depending on the variety.”

They market fruit all across the country and do a lot of export business, especially for the apples, she says.

“During September through November we send a lot of fruit to Central America and Scandinavia,” she says. “They buy apples for Christmas. We also export a lot of cherries and white peaches to Asian markets.”

It takes special packing and shipping to get fruit to its destination in perfect condition.

“With cherries we try to ship within 48 hours from the time they are picked. Cherries are picked and packed the same day and the men in the sales office make sure we find a home for them within 24 hours to make sure the fruit is handled properly and still fresh when it arrives for the customer,” she says.

“Some of the varieties for the Asian market, like cherries and white peaches, are such a treat for them that those customers pay to have it air freighted,” she says. “These fruits arrive at their destination within 72 hours of being picked from the trees.”

“I manage our inventory and make sure we are selling and moving it in a timely fashion,” she says.

Today, five family members are involved in the business. Jim Mertz and Dick Symms are the third generation, the fourth generation is Dar Symms and Jamie Mertz, and Sally is the fifth.

Seasonal help is used for various tasks such as taking care of the trees and picking. The orchards are spread over this hillside region within a 20-mile radius.

“Over the past 100 years we’ve been able to grow and keep moving forward,” she says.

Sally grew up here, helping pick cherries and working in the warehouse as a summer job. Then for six years after graduating from University of Idaho she worked in the fashion industry.

“I entered the family business a year and a half ago, which was a career shift, but the timing was just right for me to come back closer to home and work with my family. I really enjoy being in the agriculture produce business,” she says.

Pheasant Orchards a fifth generation operation Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:49:07 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas This family-owned orchard between Soap Lake and Ephrata, Wash., is the result of generations of dedication.

“Three of us are fifth-generation orchardists,” says Darla Grubb, whose great-great-grandfather, James Pheasant, brought his family to Washington in 1901. They left their farm and orchard in Nebraska and traveled for two weeks by train to Wenatchee. James’ sons and grandsons went upriver to Tonasket in 1907, where they homesteaded and planted orchards.

Two grandsons, George and Tom, planted orchards near Ephrata in the 1950s after the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project opened up farm land in that area.

“My dad (Tom) bought his 40-acre lot in 1958. He and his brother George formed a partnership called Basin View Orchards when they put their orchards together,” Darla says.

They built a fruit stand in 1960 that was operated on the honor system.

“People picked out their own fruit from bins, weighed the boxes, and put their money into a container,” she says.

Today people come from as far away as Seattle and Montana for apples and pears.

“It’s now second and third generations of family customers. On weekends we have people who help with the stand, but during the week it’s still on the honor system,” Darla says.

At age 83, Tom Pheasant is still actively involved, working with his children — son Jeff who now manages the orchard, daughter Jenni Bunkleman and daughter Darla Grubb — and several grandchildren, who work in the orchard.

“I retired from school teaching (music) for 25 years in Ephrata, and came back to the farm to help with the orchard as office manager,” Darla says.

Many family members work in the orchard.

“All my nephews and nieces work here and we also have a youth crew that works in the summer. We employ about 25 men year-round and now we’ve started a women’s crew. During harvest people come all the way from California to pick apples, cherries and pears,” she says.

“I grew up on this farm and remember summers thinning trees, suckering, changing irrigation pipe while my friends went to the lakes. Yet I appreciate it now, learning how to work. I am grateful we had the opportunity and that’s why we give this opportunity to youth workers all summer,” she says.

Pheasant Orchards grows several varieties of apples including Red and Golden Delicious, Gala, Braeburn, Cameo, Fuji, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp, along with three varieties of pears — Bartlett, d’Anjou and Bosc.

“At our fruit stand I am Apple Annie, wearing an apple outfit, and I do kindergarten tours for kids, and tours of the orchard,” Darla says.

“We started marketing our fruit as organic last year. Many people think that if it’s organic, you don’t spray,” she says. “You actually spray more because you can only use organic pesticides. You have to use more of these sprays because they are not as effective. We try to educate people about organic fruit and all the things we have to do, because if you don’t put anything on it the fruit will have worms — and the customers really don’t want to bite into a worm!”

Pheasant Orchards include 43 acres of pears, 75 acres of cherries and more than 300 acres of apples. Much of the fruit is shipped overseas. Washington exports a lot of apples, and about 70 percent of U.S. apples are grown in Washington.

“The eastern part of the country grows apples that are mainly marketed in their local stores. Washington has storage facilities that take the oxygen out, and basically puts the apple to sleep so it won’t continue to ripen in the big containers that ship apples,” says Darla.

Quince: What’s old is new again Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:47:19 -0400 Gail Oberst Buena Vista, Ore. — The ancient quince, native to Turkey and Asia Minor, has taken root in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The hardy, tangy, softball-sized fruit that must be cooked to eat or process has been in the New World since colonial times, but lost favor in recent years, outshined by sweeter and more accessible fruits.

Interest is returning, though.

In the West, as culinary and craft drink markets expand, the interest in quince has grown, prompting growers to respond. Quince has long been grown in sunny Central California, but requires irrigation there, giving temperate Oregon the advantage. His trees have been easy to maintain, requiring a fungicide just once so far in a 10-year span, said Tremaine Arkley, one of a handful of Oregon growers.

Chefs are applauding Oregon-grown fruit for its juiciness and flavor, Arkley said. Craft cider makers and distillers are also looking at the quaint quince to add tart flavors, complexity and persimmon colors to its brews.

Arkley and his wife, Gail, own a small orchard on the silty loam soils along the Willamette River south of Independence. Arkleys’ 45 trees have been producing for about six years, but their partner Earl Bruck’s 170 trees are older. Bruck, an octogenarian filbert orchardist from Wilsonville, was about to tear out his quince trees before Arkley offered to help him market the rare fruit. Bruck agreed and this year the partners are preparing to expand their orchards by 200 trees.

Their operation is still small. The Arkleys and Bruck last year sold nearly 10 tons of fruit, some of which went to CH Distillery in Chicago. The distillery has turned it into an all-quince eau de vie, a high-alcohol distilled fruit brandy. Stone Barn Brandyworks in Portland has been making quince liqueur for using Oregon fruit. WildCraft Cider Works in Eugene, Half Pint Ciders in Los Angeles and Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon are also using quince in their brews.

The quince “revival” in Oregon and in other parts of the U.S. has prompted the USDA’s National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis to begin gathering quince seeds and plants from all over the world. Edible varieties, Cydonia oblonga, from Turkmenistan, Russia, France, Armenia, Georgia, India, Bulgaria, Turkey, Peru, Poland, Portugal and Smyrna are all stored or grown at the repository. The fruit varieties range in characteristics from golden to orange, small to large, warm-weather-loving to cool.

There are also flowering ornamental varieties of quince at the repository, native to Japan or China, but common in Northwestern yards. The website includes a database of characteristics, where they area available, photos of the fruit, flowers and trees and a reading list for those interested in history, commercial production, recipes and gardening.

Eat & Grow

Check out the USDA’s National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis,, to learn more about quince.

For those who want to grow quince, Tremaine and Gail Arkley suggest checking with One Green World, which lists eight varieties on its website,

The Arkleys’ operation can be reached by calling 503-838-4886. Their website is

New hops due from Corvallis programs Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:46:40 -0400 Gail Oberst CORVALLIS, Ore. — In the future, craft beers and macro brews will taste even better, thanks to two hop research programs based on the Oregon State University campus. Both programs are on the verge of releasing three new hops that could wind up in the beer glass as early as 2018.

The Indie Hops/OSU Aroma Hops Breeding, and the USDA-Agricultural Research Services Hop Breeding and Genetics programs are working separately on dozens of new lines of hops.

USDA’s research program has been based at OSU since post-Prohibition in the 1930s. Oregon sought to re-establish itself as the hop center it was before Prohibition, but at first research focused on fighting downy mildew and other pests that often devastated crops, according to John Henning, geneticist who heads the program today. By the 1950s, the program turned to breeding hops for the re-emerging macro brewing companies.

Since then, the USDA has developed more than 20 varieties, all public and available for anyone to grow, process and use in brewing, free from royalties and restrictions. Cascade, Nugget, Willamette, Crystal — all of these common varieties and more came from the green thumbs of USDA scientists stationed at OSU. In 2013, four more hops have come into the public realm. Of those, TriplePearl was developed by the USDA at OSU.

The recent popularity of craft brews has prompted more research aimed at growing hops to please the broadening tastes of beer drinkers. Oregon, now the second-largest of the hop-growing states after Washington, is quickly catching up.

In 2010, Roger Worthington and Jim Solberg of Indie Hops, both with Corvallis connections, gifted OSU $1 million to create hop varieties specifically designed for Oregon growing conditions. The gift supports the work of Shaun Townsend, Henning’s former assistant geneticist.

Townsend is working on more than a dozen new hop lines, one of which is close to being released. This hop, with pungent aromas of tropical fruit, specifically passion fruit, is currently in its final tests in mid-Willamette Valley fields.

If this hop proves itself consistently predictable in the field, brewers could be using it in beers as early as 2018, Townsend said. The hop has already created a minor sensation following small-batch beer trials conducted by Base Camp Brewery in Portland, Worthy Brewing in Bend and Odell Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo. Those trials created a demand from brewers who want to brew with it — now. But new hops may demonstrate traits — disease, drought or pest resistance, for example — that prove to be inconsistent with time.

“Stabilization just takes time,” Townsend said. The hop is in its “baby” year this summer, its first year on the string. Next year, 2017, will see its first full yield, and if all goes well, in 2018 it will be in the glass.

“We simply have to record data on a promising genotype over many years and locations to get a good handle on how stable the performance will be over the life of the variety,” he said. “Some varieties might be quite variable from year to year for various traits while others may prove to be more consistent for the same trait. This way, when we release the variety, we can let the grower and brewer communities know the characteristics of this new variety with some degree of certainty.”

Hops developed by the OSU Aroma Breeding Program may assess a fee associated with x331, to help support the program, although nothing specific yet has been decided, Townsend said.

In a greenhouse near Townsend’s, John Henning checked his test seedlings and talked about his two hops in advanced trials — x033 and x074, the latest of nearly two dozen lines he is currently evaluating. Both public hops — no fees, no restrictions — could be in the glass within the next two or three years. Again, that’s if all goes well in the field — specifically, in test plots and greenhouses at Goschie and Sodbuster hop farms in the mid-Willamette Valley.

The x033, an aroma line with high alpha (bittering) characteristics, was introduced at the American Hop Convention in 2014, where test batches of beer proved its value in both lagers and ales.

“And, it grows like a weed,” said Henning. “It outgrew Nugget this year.”

However, x074 out-yielded them all, producing 17 bales per acre. Nuggets typically produce from 12 to 15 bales per acre. This sister to the new TriplePearl has strong apricot and tropical fruit aromas and watermelon flavors.

OSU-based research is not limited to the genome-mapping focus of the breeding programs. Hop pathology research continues into the diseases of the plant and the cultivation practices and pest management that might prevent crop loss. OSU’s fermentation program assists research by producing test batches of beers from the experimental hops.

All of these programs welcome public donations large and small, from cash to farm equipment and materials.

Donations can be made to OSU’s Agricultural Research Foundation. Information is at, or by calling the foundation, 541-737-3228.

Researcher investigates less labor-intensive cherry systems Thu, 14 Apr 2016 09:43:40 -0400 Denise Ruttan An Oregon State University horticulturist is developing improved cherry varieties on rootstock in combination with training systems that reduce the size of the trees and thus require less labor.

Lynn Long, based in Wasco County, said the research has its roots in a historical trajectory. In the 1970s, cherry orchards consisted of giant trees commonly harvested on 22-foot ladders. Fast forward to the 1990s, when growers began utilizing shorter, more densely growing trees. What is new is the ever-shrinking labor pool, which has driven growers to become more interested in dwarfing rootstocks and increasingly dense orchards.

“We wanted to try to reduce the amount of time it took to pick an acre of cherries,” Long said. “By doing this, we relieve some of the pressure on growers to find pickers who may not be there in the future.”

Part of why workers are so hard to come by has to do with the labor intensive nature of the harvest of this particular crop. To pluck a juicy, ripe cherry from a bushy branch, workers must typically climb a tall ladder to reach them.

“When you put pickers on ladders, it reduces their productivity by almost half,” Long said. “They have to set up the ladder, climb up the ladders, and reach for the fruit. Ladders increase the potential for accidents because pickers have to be higher off the ground. Pickers having both feet on the ground increases their productivity and reduces the risks for both the worker and the grower.”

Training the tree to a shorter height means growers use less labor. So Long and other researchers have investigated the performance of three main types of these training systems.

One of these training systems was developed by Washington State University and is called the Upright Fruiting Offshoots system, known more commonly by the slightly spacier term, the UFO training system. This system involves training the trees on a wide trellis.

“It’s a system where no branch hangs down, and it’s an upright system so that it has a free fall for the fruit,” Long said. “If a branch is shaken, fruit can come down into a catch basin without impacting the quality of the fruit. This is one of the systems developed to be able to automate the harvest. We looked at machines to help automation of the harvest and consumer acceptance of cherries picked with machines.”

The harvest can be automated to a great extent, but it depends on the training system, Long said. Fruit quality is imperative for cherry growers, so a cherry dropping from the tree cannot be bruised and battered.

A team at OSU, WSU and California State University studied automating the harvest using systems like UFO. The machine-picked cherries had one big difference from the hand-picked ones — no stems.

“Taking off the stem is a bit of a paradigm shift for consumers who may say, ‘I’m not sure I like this cherry without a stem on it,’” Long said.

So the team did side-by-side marketing consumer research and found that the stem-free cherries were still well-accepted. They are just not yet in commercial development, he said.

“In the interim, we have been looking at some systems that increase productivity of the plants so fewer pickers are needed. The advantage for pickers is that they are able to pick the fruit much faster with the trees that have these systems. Growers can make more money and save time,” Long said.

Ideally, orchards would be able to use what is known as a pedestrian system, a term that came out of France to refer to any system in which you can pick 70 percent of the fruit from the ground without the use of a ladder, he said.

Another one of these pedestrian systems that Long studied is called KGB, or Kym Green Bush from Australia. In this system, 100 percent of the fruit is picked from the ground without the use of a ladder. This system has multiple branches and involves a bush system with single upright branches, reaching a height of eight feet.

The third system Long studied is called the Super Slender Axe system. This system allows orchards to have high density and can be planted two feet apart in a row and 10 feet apart between rows. It’s also an extra-precocious and high-yielding system, he said.

“We’ve been looking at the advantages and disadvantages of these three systems for efficiency, quality and yields,” Long said. “The reason is to provide growers options with various systems that produce good quality fruit at high yields and help increase efficiency.”

Growers have seen some of the fruits of this research already. The KGB system, in particular, is being used by growers throughout the world, including several in The Dalles, where Long works.