December 2022 - 1

Tree fruit dilemma:
Trellis post options drive
MSU research effort
Michael Reinke is
the new viticulture
specialist for MSU
Cherry Threat:
Scientists work to fight
little cherry disease
December 2022 | Volume 61 |
Issue 12
Automation eases some tasks, but focus is on harvest
Naio Technology's Orio robot, equipped with weeding machinery from German manufacturer K.U.L.T., can be customized to perform various duties in the field. Photo: Naio Technology
By Chris Koger
Managing Editor
As Congress prepares yet again to
consider agriculture labor reform through
the Farm Workforce Modernization
Act, dozens of autonomous sprayers,
weeders and cultivators are entering
fields, orchards and vineyards every day
in California.
The state is a testing ground for
new technology, increasingly more
sophisticated as companies seek to crack
the Holy Grail of specialty crop tech
success: an efficient harvesting machine
that can tell when a piece of fruit is ready
and pick it and drop it into a container
without damaging it.
Hundreds of growers, academics
and Extension agents, tech startup
representatives and others discussed the
current state and future of robotics and
autonomous machinery in agriculture
at the inaugural FIRA-USA conference
on ag robotics and automation. The Oct.
18-20 event featured a day of education
sessions, a day of manufacturers
promoting their equipment and a day of
demonstrations in fields and a vineyard.
The opening panel session on the needs
and challenges of developing automation
in agriculture underscored how the lack
of labor is pushing manufacturers and
growers into partnerships as technology is
tested in real-world conditions.
One robot, one crop concept
Walt Duflock, vice president of ag
tech innovation for Western Growers,
said three issues have overshadowed
growers' concerns for decades: food
safety, water and labor. The U.S. has lost
70% of its farmworkers over the past
few decades, he said, and the number
of participants in the H-2A temporary
visa program grew six-fold in the past 16
years, to about 300,000 last year. While
the program secures workers, it also sets
wages and mandates growers supply
workers housing and transportation.
In early 2021, Western Growers
launched the Global Harvest Automation
Initiative to take a comprehensive look
See FIRA-USA, page 5
RJK's competitive drive
By Doug Ohlemeier
Assistant Editor
A Washington father and his
sons keep their tree fruit operation
competitive in challenging times
by adjusting business practices and
mitigating rising costs.
A third-generation farm, RJK Farms
grows apples, cherries and pears. Kent
Karstetter and his sons Brady and
Mitchell grow on 450 acres. Apple
varieties include Galas, Honeycrisps,
Juici Delites, Karmas, Granny Smiths
and organic Goldens for processing.
RJK's 1,200 total farm acres include hay
and row crops, plus an additional 2,000
leased acres.
Quincy, Washington's RJK - named
after Kent, his father Richard and
brother Jerry - began in 1961 when
the elder Karstetter, a firefighter
who died in 2021 at 86, joined some
investors. By 1990, the two brothers
and father became the remaining
investors. The orchard is one of the
oldest high-density orchards using
dwarf trees in existence.
While investors can financially
help an organization, it can come at a
cost, including deferred maintenance
preferred by investors who want quick
returns. The elder Karstetter points to
a neglected grove in renewal that relied
on band-aid approaches. Trees were
grafted, which only works for a decade,
instead of more permanent replantings.
Skyrocketing costs and input
shortages forced the Karstetters to
prepay for supplies, including fuel.
Recently, they purchased $70,000
worth of liquid nitrogen, which won't
be used until next fall. It's a hedge,
betting prices could shoot to $100,000.
Because advance purchases can wreck
a farming operation's budget, growers
See RJK, page 7

December 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of December 2022

December 2022 - 1
December 2022 - 2
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December 2022 - 4
December 2022 - 5
December 2022 - 6
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