How do we grow our fruit?
People often ask how we grow our fruit. This is a simple question with a deep answer. We strive to strike a balance between what is good for our fruit trees, the environment, and our customers. Our farming philosophy may be best explained through the concept of Sustainable Agriculture.
According to the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, "the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
¥ satisfy human food and fiber needs;
¥ enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
¥ make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
¥ sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
¥ enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."
Sustainable Agriculture includes the following the following practices:
Soil Building Healthy soil is the basis for all sustainable agriculture. Soil that has been farmed intensively loses its nutrients and lacks vital beneficial microorganisms. Sustainable farming rebuilds depleted soil and keeps it healthy. There are many ways that farmers build their soil including compost, cover crops, mulch, manure, and the addition of organic nutrients. Soil fertility is the key to growing plants that are productive, resistant to disease, and nutritious to eat. http://cuesa.org/
The oldest parts of our orchards have been farmed since the 1870s. The six generations of Smiths who have tilled the ground have used the best practices of their generation to cultivate and add organic matter to the soil, so that the topsoil is nearly two feet deep. The newer portion of our orchards was virgin soil, covered with oak brush and sagebrush until the 1990s, so Nature had provided some pretty good compost. We continue to cultivate and compost as good stewards, to leave the dirt richer than we found it .
Tree Nutrition Fruit quality is closely associated with optimum nutrient levels. When a tree is missing nutrients, typically the leaves will tell the story first, but by the time they do, the damage to the tree and the crop for the current and succeeding year has been made.
Our fruit trees are our lifeblood. Their health is critical to their ability to produce, so we take tree nutrition seriously at Smith Orchards. In addition to composting and cultivation, we utilize foliar nutrients that deliver chelated mineral nutrition where trees need it the most—the leaves. As a result our trees are more resistant to disease and pests, and are able to produce large yields over a greater number of years. Quite simply, larger leaf surface and greater leaf count mean a higher level of photosynthesis and increased capacity for fruit development.
Judicious Water Use Industrial agriculture and antiquated farming techniques often make inefficient use of water resources. Heavy irrigation through flood and furrow irrigation leads to water waste and drainage problems. Sustainable farmers use water judiciously and eliminate excess run-off. http://cuesa.org/
Our irrigation water comes from spring run-off and mountain springs, and arrives in our orchard with a pH near 7.1, full of colloidal minerals. This lower pH enhances the trees’ ability to uptake water and minerals. We use reservoirs to store water for timed release as needed, and primarily deliver water in the orchard through micro-emitters. The misting heads allow us to adjust the rate of water flow to the precise needs of the trees (according to their age, size, variety, stage of fruit development, temperature, etc.).
Integrated Pest Management According to the EPA, “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
Monitor and Identify Pests Not all insects, weeds, and other living organisms require control. Many organisms are innocuous, and some are even beneficial. IPM programs work to monitor for pests and identify them accurately, so that appropriate control decisions can be made…This monitoring and identification removes the possibility that pesticides will be used when they are not really needed or that the wrong kind of pesticide will be used.
Control Once monitoring indicates that pest control is required…IPM programs then evaluate the proper control method both for effectiveness and risk. Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first, including highly targeted chemicals, such as pheromones to disrupt pest mating, or mechanical control, such as trapping or weeding. If further monitoring, identifications and action thresholds indicate that less risky controls are not working, then additional pest control methods would be employed, such as targeted spraying of pesticides.” (http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/factsheets/ipm.htm)
Insect Pheromone Disruption is a sustainable farmer’s greatest pest management tool.
Insects can have devastating effects on crops and many farms use pesticides to control them. Sustainable farmers employ an ingenious alternative called insect pheromone disruption. Insects release sex hormones called pheromones during their mating cycle as location signals. Farmers confuse the insects by hanging pheromone-scented baits in their orchards or fields. When they are unable to find the opposite sex, the insects cannot reproduce. This is just another way ecological farmers avoid using toxins on their fields. http://cuesa.org/
Integrated Pest Management just makes sense to us. The ability to use cutting edge technology to monitor the presence and development of pests, then to target the threat with the most appropriate action, helps us be good stewards of our orchard and the environment. Mating disruption is a major element of our pest management. We use traps and real-time data provided by USU Extension Service about insect development to know when to employ mating disruption. This practice keeps our trees healthy, ensuring premium fruit for the season.
Pollination Pollinators are key to farm production. They carry pollen from flower to flower, and fertilize trees and plants. Many pollinators such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats are threatened by the widespread use of pesticides on conventional farms and the spread of urban development. http://cuesa.org/ Proper Integrated Pest Management provides habitat for pollinators, ensuring full harvests.
Our fruit crop is dependent on springtime pollination. A local beekeeper has a half dozen hives situated just outside our orchard to enhance pollination, ensuring ideal fruit set for a full crop. We regularly have a great pollination, and delicious honey as a bonus! Ladybugs are prolific in our orchard, and are welcomed as aphid eaters. We have nesting pairs of hummingbirds in our orchards year to year. Theirpresence helps us know that our pest management is in balance.
Vine Ripened Produce/Tree Ripened Fruit In large-scale conventional agriculture, many fruits and vegetables are shipped long distances. They are often picked while still unripe and firm, and then treated with gas to 'ripen' or soften them during transport or distribution. Local small-scale sustainable farmers sell directly to consumers at the farmers market so they can allow fruits and vegetables to ripen on the vine or tree. This means the produce comes to you fresh and delicious, with its nutrients intact, and the best flavor and texture possible. http://cuesa.org/
While many fruit farmers pick all of a particular variety at one time for the sake of efficiency, at Smith Orchards we pick the fruit as it ripens, which requires picking the same tree multiple times. This takes more time, but guarantees the best flavor and quality for our customers. Our fruit never travels farther than 44 miles from orchard to market, and is rarely off the tree more than a day or two before market .
Habitat for Predators Natural predators including owls, hawks, bats and snakes help control farm pests such as gophers, squirrels, rabbits, and rodents. Sustainable farmers provide habitat for predators by hanging special boxes or perches or by leaving undisturbed wild areas for predators to live in. While protecting their crops with predators, farmers also help support species that have limited access to their natural wild habitat. http://cuesa.org/
Our upper orchard is in the foothills at about 5300 feet, and is surrounded by wildlife habitat on private and public lands. An eight-foot fence keeps the deer and moose out of the orchard, but they share the pasture outside with our horses. We provide watering locations along the edge of our property for wildlife, fed by our irrigation water several times a week. The nesting boxes we mounted ten years ago on tall poles overlooking our orchard are homes for kestrel falcons (who don’t build their own nests). They take care of rodent pests, with some help from the coyotes, owls and golden eagles. Wild turkeys find the orchard floor a great place to clean up cull fruit in the fall.
Direct Marketing Direct marketing such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture plans, and farm stands help smaller farms achieve financial sustainability. Selling directly to consumers allows farmers to get a fair return for their produce. And direct marketing gives consumers access to fresher, healthier, more delicious food straight from the farm. http://cuesa.org/
The farmers market is not only a place for us to sell our fruit, but also a unique way to connect with people who love our fruit almost as much as we do. We also appreciate the opportunity to purchase the produce that we do not grow ourselves from folks who put their hearts and souls into what they do for a living. We look forward to the market season each year, knowing that we will eat better from June through October than we do the rest of the year. You just can’t beat fresh local produce and foods for taste, nutrition and value!
We all want to eat well and live healthily. We want to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in a world that supports life in its many varied and beautiful forms. The farmers market contributes immensely to this quality of life. It provides us with fresh wholesome food, rich in vital nutrients. It also offers a gathering place where people from all walks of life, both urban and rural, come together to form a community. At the same time, sustainable agriculture protects our natural resources for many generations to come. http://cuesa.org/