Start Farming "Models for the Future"
This video shares impacts from a Penn State Extension beginning farmer project to establish on-farm apple demonstration plots, called “Models for the Future”. These model plots provide living classrooms where new farmers experience and learn innovative management practices. (USDA NIFA grant #2014-07502)
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- [Narrator] In 2014, a group of Penn State extension educators received a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant from the USDA.
This grant focused on beginning farmers in years two through ten, who were establishing their businesses.
Along with creating study circles across Pennsylvania, a new commercial fruit grower school, and educational materials, much of the work on this grant went into establishing on-farm demonstrations, called Models for the Future.
These model plots provided living classrooms, where new farmers could experience and learn innovative management practices.
Three different types of model plots were formed, tree fruit, berries and vegetables, to illustrate best management practices.
Each type of model plot received one third of an acre.
Plot management strategies and design were determined by the collaborative decisions of the farmer, members of the project team, and participatory beginning farmers.
One of the farms that hosted a tree fruit model plot was Scholl Orchards, 45 acres of steep Lehigh County shale, founded in 1948.
Each tree fruit model plot had two rows of Crimson Crisp and two rows of Goldrush apples.
The trees were spaced at three and a half feet by 13 feet, which equals 957 trees per acre.
To prepare the plot for planting in spring of 2017, cover crops, such as Sudan grass and rapeseed, were rotated for two years to increase organic matter in the soil, and combat any nematode issues.
- My name is Jake Scholl, and I'm the manager here at Scholl Orchards.
We're in the Lehigh Valley, which is a growing area.
And our operation has expanded from about three, four acres up to about 50.
With the model plot, I would say most things that were suggested worked.
Everything pretty much went to plan, as long as the timing was done when it was supposed to be done, which is key.
The trees look good, they're healthy, they're happy.
The grass grew, everything just went smooth.
The cover crops, as far as reducing the nematode population, worked real well.
We have the tests to prove that.
The biomass from all of the Sudan grass, that stuff was ten feet tall, twice in one year.
So it was a lot to put into the ground, and it definitely seemed to help.
I would say what didn't work would've just been incorporating was the hardest part with the texture of our ground is shale, rock.
And getting the cover crop actually buried was a challenge, but that was probably the hardest part, and getting these posts in for the trellis was difficult, too.
The one cover crop, the canola, the rapeseed, went to seed, cause we were not able to get it incorporated in time.
It came at a tough time of year.
Most farmers, August, September, are you know, working on their crops and this gets put to the side, so some of that went to seed, and we had some volunteer weeds, but they seemed to be controlled since then.
This is the first time that we've used cover crops.
Before, we never really had the land available to get into it, we didn't think it was important at the time, but we've gotten into it, and since we've been putting cover crops on other acreage, for other crops, produce, orchard, whatever, it just helps the ground.
In a plot like this, you're looking for a long-term commitment, 20 years or so.
Planning ahead is probably your best way to make this work properly.
Give yourself at least three years, two to three years, get your rootstocks on order, on the list, two, three years out.
The hardest part about getting trees right now is the fact that they're in high demand, and growers are planting huge amounts per acre, and you know, just ten years ago, 15 years ago, people were planting, you know, maybe 300, 400, 500 trees per acre, and now it's 1200, 1400, 1600.
And it's just the nurseries I believe are struggling to keep up with the demand.
The rootstocks are getting harder to come by.
A possibility may be to graft and bud your own trees, and if you can get the rootstocks, you could maybe control what you're gonna get by making it yourself.
And that's an avenue that we're dabbling with now is growing our own trees.
We'll only ever plant apples on trellis from now on.
It's labor savings, it's easy to pick, it's fun to pick.
And you know, children, older people, anybody can do it, it's much less labor.
You also get a lot of good color on the fruit.
There's no inside of the tree.
Every apple hangs on the outside, and better fruit, it turned out real well.
It's definitely what we're moving into.
As far as barriers to implementing this system, a, number one, cost.
It's a lot to handle all at once.
It's a lot of labor, materials are big.
We build a fairly heavy trellis here, cause we're on top of a windy hill, and we don't wanna be doing this twice.
That is for sure.
So it's a heavy trellis, and there's also a lot of tree training.
The first year, you're connecting the tree to the trellis wires as it grows.
You're scoring and notching to get limbs to grow where there's blind wood.
And you're pinching buds off to get a central leader, so it's a lot of labor the first three years.
We're in it for the long haul, and any fruit grower is, so doing it right the first time is the way to go.
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- [Narrator] For more information about the project, visit the Start Farming website.
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