Currently farmed by Mark (5th generation) and Jordan (6th generation) Youngquist, the Youngquist farm has been around for approximately 130 years. It’s located on “the ridge” northwest of Grand Rapids. The ridge is a significant ecological area. It’s 30 miles from the Lake Michigan shore duneline. The ridge is the second duneline, and the elevation is 800 – 850 feet.
The first trees of this 180 acre farm were planted by Marks’ grandfather. At that time there were 30 trees per acre. Now, they can plant up to 1,000 trees per acre. This is due to newer techniques such as a high-density trellis system. In this system, the trees are attached to stakes and pruned to allow sunlight to hit the apples to ripen them – farming the sunlight – as Mark calls it. It can double the output. Traditionally grown trees have a lot of apples that the sunlight doesn’t fully hit, and they cannot be harvested.
When there are 40 trees per acre, there’s a net of 700 – 800 bushels per acre. But, not all are the same red color. With high- density growing there are easily 1,000 bushels per acre of more uniform color and ripeness. Recently, Youngquist got 1,700 bushels per acre from some high-density Ida Red trees.
Skilled pickers are needed for apples, because they are easily bruised if pinched or dropped. Apples are all harvested by hand – unlike MI cherries which can be machine harvested. The skilled labor here are from Vera Cruz, Mexico. They come for seven weeks in the summer through the Federal H2A program and are paid the wage set by the government ($11.49 per hour) or by $16.00 per bin. The workers must be able to climb an 18 foot ladder carrying about 60 pounds of apples on their shoulders. Stems must be in tact to prevent damage during storage.
The Youngquists reminisced with us about their relationship with their workers. Sometimes the family is invited to workers’ major family events (a 25th wedding anniversary) in either Mexico or Florida (where this group also picks citrus).
On the farm there are three 72 foot by 30 foot triplex housing units for the workers. They were built to Department of Agriculture and Department of Labor standards and are inspected annually – with intermittent surprise inspections.
During this part of the Michigan Apple Committee trip, Julianna Wilson from MSU Extension spoke to us about the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) processes used by conventional apple farmers. According to the US EPA website, 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.
In this case, they use a lot of ‘mating interruption’ of the codling moths. Pheromones are distributed around the orchards by a machine that intermittently poofs out the scent or by small scented sheets hung around the area. This synthetic version confuses the males and the mating doesn’t happen.
Also, fungal spore traps are set up to help determine when pest management is necessary. They are timed with environmental characteristics such as rain. The timing of pesticide application is based on biology rather than the calendar.
“Pesticides are not sprayed during bloom,” said Youngquist. “This is to prevent damage to the honeybees.” Five percent of the trees are pollinator trees. According to MSU Extension, pollinator trees are planted to support and maintain pollinators by supplying food in the form of pollen and nectar that will ensure that these important animals stay in the area to keep pollinating crops for continued fruit production.
The Youngquist apples are processed at Jack Brown Produce Co-Op. (Next story in this series.)
Click here for my Sietsema Orchard post.
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