Roy Farms and Apples

Washington has the distinction of being host to the largest apple production of any state in the U.S.—and by a wide margin. Alone, it historically has yielded over 55% of the national crop.

The Moxee Valley is well adapted to quality apple production and so was a natural choice for diversification of our efforts in perennial agriculture. Roy Farms has been a proud participant in the growth of the state’s apple industry since 1978. Currently, we grow half a dozen varieties with an emphasis on high-value proprietary varieties that are strongly desired by the marketplace.

Apple Production

Apples sell by variety and it seems that everyone has a favorite or two. So selection of new varieties to plant carries some extra risk. First crop is not available until the third year after planting and commercial yields follow three to four years later—marketplace trends can change significantly in seven years.

We minimize that risk, as much as possible, by maintaining strong global contacts with breeders and marketers. This allows us to perform a solid evaluation of potential new plantings in light of the latest developments and forecasts of market trends.

Whether a variety is a “winner” or not, there is almost always a slot at the produce section for highest quality apples so we do quite a bit of work to achieve that goal. We optimize planting density to soil type and topography and evaluate the type of trellis needed to maximize crop character with favorable yields and low cullage at packing.

There is ongoing work too with getting training of the limbs and pruning regime “just right”. Not only is this important to picking efficiency but it is synergistic to our targeted fertility practice—enough balanced fertilization to make good fruit and a healthy tree, not so much that the tree wastes energy and nutrients on excess wood production.

As much as possible, nutrients are delivered via irrigation water which is applied by either micro-sprinkler or drip tubes. This approach allows us to more carefully manage tree health while avoiding loss of precious water to either evaporation or over-watering.

We were early adopters of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) on tree fruit. This approach relies upon respecting the presence of beneficial, crop-protecting organisms in the orchard ecosystem. By allowing them to do their work against harmful insects and microbes, we have greatly reduced our dependence upon use of protectant sprays.

As our apple growing practice becomes more resilient to supply/price shocks for either inputs or crop, the sustainability of farm increases to the same degree.

Apple Harvest

Each variety has a particular harvest window from late summer through early fall. Collection bins and ladders are staged to the orchard a few days ahead of picking. Crews are scheduled for picking and then the orchards are inspected for maturity on a daily basis.

When sugar, size and color tell us “It is time to pick!”, we do.

The trellising pattern and pruning established in earlier years pay off big here. We have maximized the “pick-ability” of the trees so as to avoid the need for a lot of ladder-wrangling around each tree. Better for worker safety, avoids tree and fruit damage—everybody’s happy. (At the current time, we are actively working through the challenges of moving to “platform picking”. No ladders! Pickers will be on moving platforms which is much easier and safer for them as well as more efficient.)

Pickers fill their pouchs with fruit very carefully to avoid bruising and stem punctures. When filled they are taken to the nearest bin and gently spread out to maintain a level surface for the next picker. (A pyramid or mound in the bin will lead to fruit at the top rolling off… and then the careful picking effort is wasted since bruises and punctures result.)

Full bins (about 850 pounds each) are moved to our warehouse facilities and passed through a hydro-cooler to take out “field heat” and achieve a preliminary cleaning of the fruit. From there, the fruit is moved to refrigerated storage to await further handling.

Apple Handling & Packing

Roy Farms partnered with a 4th generation apple packer in 1985. They take delivery of our apples then wash, size, remove cullage and sort the best apples into grades for shipment to market.

In 1986 we built our first controlled-atmosphere (CA) storage building. This facility allows Roy Farms more control in delivery to market at the most favorable prices. At least as important as marketing control however is our ability to maintain a clear chain of documentation on every single lot of fruit. We can tie variety, field location, all relevant pesticide applications (if any) and harvest date to a given lot number and provide an integrated data document to our packing partner.(*)

 

(*) Our attention to detail was rewarded with certification by Global Gap in 2005. This is a third-party certification organization concerned with reduction of environmental impacts of agriculture, reduction of agricultural chemicals and strong attention to worker health and safety. The interested reader can find out more about them here:
http://www.globalgap.org

 

Vision Statement

To consistently improve agriculture for the good of all stakeholders, without compromise

Guiding Principles

  • Human and Food Safety
  • Community and Environmental Stewardship
  • Employee Empowerment, Innovation and Creativity

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