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Ag Monthly | Stemilt honors area’s top growers

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At the Stemilt Grower Awards presentation, from left, are Kyle Mathison, Valley Cherry Award winners Laura and Mike Mracheck and Emily and Bryan Mrachek with son Elliott, and West Mathison.

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Stemilt honors area’s top growers

WENATCHEE — One of the region’s largest fruit companies has honored more than a dozen area orchards and their managers for producing high quality fruit during the 2016 crop year.

Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee presented its annual Grower Awards to 13 growing operations and the people who run them. Judged by the Stemilt fieldstaff, the awards were given on Aug. 3 at the company’s annual grower barbecue.

Recipients included (award name, orchard name, manager/owner name):

Fuji Award: Diaz Orchard (Lupe Diaz)

Gala Award: Fred Hurst (Fred Hurst and Edgar Martinez)

Honeycrisp Award: PFF Airport Ranch (Dave Piepel and Ken Engley)

Granny Smith Award: A&T Mathison Ranch, Inc. (Aaron Mathison and Antonio Ochoa)

Pink Lady Award: GFC Royal Main (Andy Gale and Pedro Cuevas)

Red Delicious Award: Mattawa Orchard No. 2 (Luis Cuevas and Norma Cuevas)

Organic Apple Grower Award: Diamondback Acres, Inc. (Bill and Angell Clark)

Organic Pear Award: Jon Small (Jon Small)

Pear Award: Entiat River Valley No. 1 (Mike Taylor and Mike Jurgens)

Rainier Cherry Award: Finlayson Orchards, LLC (Frank Finlayson)

Valley Cherry Award: Lucky Bohemian No. 3 (Mike Mrachek, Bryan Mrachek and Israel Huerta)

Hill Cherry Award: Kyle Mathison Orchards (Kyle Mathison)

Organic Cherry Award: Stormy Mountain Ranch (Ray Fuller, Abel and Rosa Perez)


Forecast for 2017 apple harvest is smaller crop, stable quality

YAKIMA — The 2017 apple harvest will shrink slightly from last year but maintain quality, the state’s leading tree fruit group announced last month.

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association forecast this year’s crop at 130.9 million boxes of fresh apples, which is down 1.2 percent from last year’s 132.9 million box crop.

The 2017 Washington state apple crop looks to be slightly smaller than last year’s crop but will still deliver an ample supply of tasty apples for consumers to enjoy this year,” said Jon DeVaney, WSTFA president.

Harvest typically runs from August through November. This year, DeVaney said, harvest will start a few weeks later than in 2016 due to cooler spring weather.

Apple lovers will have many varieties of Washington apples to choose from, added DeVaney. Red Delicious remains the most numerous variety with a projected 24 percent of production, with Gala close behind at 22.5 percent. Fuji follows at 14 percent, Granny Smith at 13 percent, Honeycrisp at 8 percent and Cripps Pink at 5 percent.

The forecast is based on a survey of WSTFA members and represents the best estimate of apples expected to be packed and sold on the fresh market, excluding those sent to processors. Weather could affect the final harvest total.


Wheat farmers make hay while the sun shines

WATERVILLE — Heat and wheat farming go hand in hand.

The hot dry weather is conducive to a clean threshing and harvest. As they say, we’re making hay while the sun shines,” said Central Washington Grain Growers General Manager Paul Katovich. “But it’s miserable to be out there in this heat.”

The Waterville-based cooperative accepted its first load of wheat July 21, dropping the flag on the start of harvest.

Last year, the first load was delivered July 16 and in 2015, on July 8.

I would say last year was pretty close to median. This year we’re about a week late and 2015 was early. We’ve seen variances we are likely to see in the past three years,” he said.

Each year is a little different. Whenever it starts, though, it’s hot and heavy.

About the third or fourth week of harvest is when it peaks, in terms of volume,” he said. “It has a long tail. We’ll be cutting in September and cleaning stuff up. If it rains, that slows us down and colder, shorter days mean less harvesting opportunity.”

Katovich said the yields are good.

It’s certainly better than the average crop. Time will tell if it’s a noteworthy crop. All that heat in June and July took that bin-busting crop out of play, but it will still be a nice crop,” he said.

The good news is prices are up — over last year at least.

While that’s good, it would be good to see it going up. We are still hoping for better prices. It’s nip and tuck whether farmers are covering the cost of production at these levels, but everyone is different,” he said. “We are thankful for the small recovery that we have had versus last year. We’re hopeful.”

The price range in the past 30 days has gone from $4.39 to $5.52 a bushel, according to the CWGG website. Last year’s high was less than $5 a bushel.

The majority of wheat grown in central Washington is soft white wheat. Most of that is exported to Pacific Rim customers — Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Those checks don’t bounce,” Katovich said. “Of all the customers around the globe, the Pacific Rim has the most stable and reliable training partners. They are finicky at times, but they’re great trading partners.”


A net solution 

WENATCHEE — Ashley Winters, a lab technician for the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, moved from apple trees covered by red netting to trees covered in blue at the center in Wenatchee. She was setting up measurements on photosynthesis and moisture content of the tree leaves.

Dr. Lee Kalcsits and others are studying the effects of the netting on the Honeycrisp apple tree and its fruit. A larger experimental plot is near Quincy.

During the three-year study, researchers are looking at how netting affects the orchard environment, tree physiology and fruit quality. Netting prevents sunburn on apples and protects them from hail damage, among other benefits that the team is seeking to better understand.


Legislature provides more time for rural wisdom

NCW — The Farm Internship Project, a state program that encourages experienced farmers to share their knowledge with would-be farmers working as interns, has been extended another year.

The project, established by the Legislature in 2014, was set to expire at the end of this year. Lawmakers approved extending it to the end of 2018 and added four counties to the list, bringing the total to 20. Chelan and Grant counties have been included since the beginning. It’s administered by the state Department of Labor and Industries.

For information, go to wwrld.us/smallfarmintern.

To qualify, a farm must have less than $250,000 in gross sales per year and all owners and partners must work on the farm and participate in farm management. Qualifying farms can enroll up to three interns a year.

Whether they are paid is up to the farmer and the intern. The interns are exempt from the state’s minimum wage law and may work without wages or other compensation. Farmers do have to sign them up for worker’s compensation. The interns, though, cannot take the place of a paid worker.

As part of the application process, participating farmers must create a curriculum designed to help the interns learn the business, emphasizing farming skills and vocational knowledge about farming.


Clayton is agricultural advocate in the making

ORONDO — April Clayton of Red Apple Orchards in Orondo is in the midst of a two-year program with the American Farm Bureau Federation that prepares young farmers to be advocates and industry leaders. She is one of 10 selected for the program, the first from Washington state to participate.

Currently vice president of the Chelan Douglas Farm Bureau, Clayton has a doctorate in analytical chemistry. She and her husband, Mike Clayton, are growing organic apples and a couple of children.

The need for agricultural advocacy is important to me,” she said. “As a passionate farm mom I wanted to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers. As a chemist I wanted change the the misconceptions about farming and the practices surrounding them.”

The group recently traveled to New York to learn about how to speak with reporters and consumers about farming and related topics, including the Farm Bill. Her next trip will be to Washington, D.C., and then she will travel outside the U.S.