Organic Orchard Management
Cliffside Orchard, Kettle Falls
August 08, 2016
On August 8, farmers, budding orchardists and agricultural professionals gathered in Stevens County to hear Jeff Herman of Cliffside Orchard speak about growing and selling certified organic fruit since the early 1980s. When Jeff and Jeanette Herman purchased their land in Kettle Falls, Washington in 1982, nobody else in the tree fruit-rich region had interest in growing fruit organically. When they received organic certification from the WSDA in 1985, they knew they were pioneering the organic movement in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide. Jeff remembers one of their early wholesale accounts was with a small market in Texas called Whole Foods.
As the organic industry changed, and it became more difficult to complete larger organic growers, Cliffside transitioned to almost exclusively farmer’s markets, seeing the financial benefits of direct sales. With their reputation for quality peaches, loyal customers pulled them through difficult years when hail had destroyed or maimed a large portion of their crop. Even though they stopped selling at Seattle farmer’s markets a few years ago to focus locally, a few loyal Seattle customers still buy fruit from them today.
As the group toured the orchard, Jeff explained how over three decades ago he planted peaches, apricots, apples, pears, plums and nectarines. Many wanted to learn more about how to implement organic orchard care and transition existing orchards to organic management. When asked what benefits he receives from organic certification, Jeff shared his thought that it is a small price to pay to be able to meaningfully market organic practices. Much of the discussion came back to pest management and sharing strategies to ward off fungal infections, destructive insects like flower thrips and codling moth, and gophers.
As the walk ended, the conversation turned to climate change. Jess has observed very early bloom dates in recent years, as confirmed by WSU professionals Nils Johnson and David Granatstein, who have seen bloom dates at the Wenatchee study site advance over 2 weeks since the 1930s. And while increasing day time temperatures take their toll, it’s the increasingly warmer nighttime low temperatures which negatively affect tree fruit the most, disturbing trends that will push Washington orchardists to find new ways to adapt.
Summary by Lia Spaniolo
This farm walk funded in part by the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Program.