April Clayton of Red Apple Orchards gave Angie Knerl with Foster Creek CD a tour at her farm to show how they participate in voluntary stewardship. Red Apple Orchards is an organic farm where conservation activities make for efficient production, while protecting critical areas in Douglas County to fulfill the Growth Management Act requirements.
What practices have you implemented (or installed) on your farm for conservation and why? As April drove me up and down the steep roads of the orchard, she told me about the two programs Red Apple Orchards applies. They have USDA certified organic fruit and they are a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) participant. This means they only use certain herbicides and pesticides to encourage beneficial insects, which they spray precisely, and they must organize staging areas and farm records for inspection. These actions qualify as conservation practices under nutrient management and integrated pest management. With these programs, April’s crops can sell for higher prices in more markets as her fruit meets food safety standards required for wholesalers.
April uses conservation practices to grow quality fruit with less erosion and water. April’s trees have elevated driplines and the cherries have micro-sprinklers for hot summer days to keep water use low while slowing powdery mildew. Lines are elevated so farm workers can burn the weeds beneath the trees, while the aisles have a cover crop of grass to keep the orchard cooler and prevent erosion. The land surrounding the trees is thick with grass, sagebrush, and flowers that keep erosion low and provide habitat and food for pollinators and wildlife. These barriers keep the steep roads safe for workers and semi-trucks hauling fruit out to the packing sheds. Red Apple Orchards has a perimeter fence to keep the deer and bears from eating the fruit, and this counts as a conservation practice too!
All these practices fit well with Red Apple Orchards precision management mindset to keep the trees productive and their fruit high quality. However, they go beyond the required and are creative in ways to reduce waste. When they prune wood, April keeps a pile to heat her home instead of using grid power. There are multiple active gardens around the property to provide food for her family and workers. Last year, Red Apple Orchards donated 900lbs of apples to schools for them to make and sell pies as a fundraiser. As April put it, “Conservation practices make the farm look good and make for community pride.”
What are the best and worst outcome you have experienced from implementing conservation practices? One of the good outcomes experienced was the creation of a fire break at the fence by mowing, while keeping the majority of sagebrush habitat within and outside the fences for wildlife. However, the conservation practice of placing platforms for hawks did not go as planned because the birds preferred the wind machines and the platforms went unused.
Who would you recommend contacting to start conservation practices on their land? April recommended contacting Foster Creek CD and the Farm Bureau to start and continue participation in voluntary stewardship. April noted when it comes to organic orchard standards, “there is a big list of what you can’t do, farmers will do conservation practices if they are able to afford it, but many small farmers are struggling.” From experience she knows, “there is a lot of information out there, but [farmers] don’t know that they are already doing a lot of conservation practices and don’t need to go above and beyond. The best management practices they use are also conservation practices.”