February 2023 - 7
After labor, fertilizer is the next biggest farm
expense. With fertilizer costs almost doubling in recent
seasons, Applegate closely watches costs and how
it uses products for smarter application processes
and precision ag, Mason said. When Mason's son read
an article on using drones for pest management and
applying nutrients, she saw it as a good (although
costlier) idea when the standard row-by-row
application is not possible due to weather.
Doing the homework
" With new things coming out all the time, we do our
homework on what new fertilizers and nutrients are
available, " Mason said. " We are always looking into
how we can do things better. There are always new and
different ways to apply the necessary treatments that
would be more beneficial. "
Weather remains a challenge. Recent years brought
extreme heat, including 115° Fahrenheit temperatures
in 2021, which some berry varieties can't handle
well. During the summer of 2022, for example, the
region experienced 60 consecutive days of average
temperatures of 100° Fahrenheit. Fewer cool nights and
chilling hours will stress plants. It doesn't take much
high heat for sunburn to harm immature berries. When
temperatures hit 90-95° Fahrenheit, Applegate starts
cooling fruit through misters.
Applegate continually removes apple trees and
highbush Rabbiteye blueberries, which can't tolerate
the Northwest's winters. It replanted high-chill Duke,
Legacy, Liberty, Aurora and Last Call varieties. A handful
of other varieties remain but Applegate is planning to
replant newer ones. Applegate relies on Washington
State University and Michigan State University as well as
new varieties being developed by Berry Blue.
Economics prompted Applegate to plant blueberries
and remove apple trees that were planted in the 1990s by
Mason and her former husband. By 1998, following some
difficult years, the couple realized apples weren't making
any money and decided to diversify.
Studying crops and talking with other growers,
the couple experimented in their backyard with
blueberries. The more research they did, the more they
were attracted to blueberries.
In 2000, Applegate transitioned to organics. In 2002,
it planted its first blueberry bushes Like with apples,
limited berry production begins in the second to third
year, with another couple years required before full
Technology is important to Mason. Applegate is a
test farm participating in BerrySmart, a field project
from innov8.ag, a Walla Walla, Washington, agricultural
technology startup that helps grow and harvest
blueberries more efficiently. Mason welcomes bringing
new technology to her groves, which include gauging soil
variability and sensors to better predict crop load.
" There are so many things that keep coming up all the
FRUITGROWERSNEWS.COM | 7
Applegate Orchards is 100% organic blueberries.
time, the new technology, the new varieties, "
she said. Mason cites apps that allow irrigation
control via smartphones.
Remaining successful involves diligence.
" You really have to keep an eye on your crop, "
Despite all the challenges, Mason remains optimistic.
" There are new challenges every year, " she said.
" Things are always changing. Just trying to keep up
with the weather and the new things coming out is a
constant change. But, if you're not changing, you're
not improving. "
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of February 2023
February 2023 - 1
February 2023 - 2
February 2023 - 3
February 2023 - 4
February 2023 - 5
February 2023 - 6
February 2023 - 7
February 2023 - 8
February 2023 - 9
February 2023 - 10
February 2023 - 11
February 2023 - 12
February 2023 - 13
February 2023 - 14
February 2023 - 15
February 2023 - 16
February 2023 - 17
February 2023 - 18
February 2023 - 19
February 2023 - 20
February 2023 - 21
February 2023 - 22
February 2023 - 23
February 2023 - 24
February 2023 - 25
February 2023 - 26
February 2023 - 27
February 2023 - 28
February 2023 - 29
February 2023 - 30
February 2023 - 31
February 2023 - 32
February 2023 - 33
February 2023 - 34
February 2023 - 35
February 2023 - 36