by Dwight Bradley
Bob Purvis, founder of the Alaska Pioneer Fruit Growers and its first president (1984-89), left his job as a horticulturist with Agrimanagement, Inc. in Yakima in mid-February 1996 to become the horticulturist for Chiawan Orchards/Cotumbia Reach Pack in yakima. Bob recently wrote to me and commented on his new job:
“I left Agrimanagement with some misgivings but am really glad now to have made the switch. My duties in the new job are somewhat similar to the old one, but with different emphases. First of all, some comments about the company. It is owned by a partnership of lour men: two apple growers (my boss, Bruce Alien; and the director of sales, Dave Newman), a Federal judge, and an attorney. The partnership has been in business since 1981 and began packing its own fruit in 1991 in a facility that used to be owned by Stadelman Fruit, Inc. Bruce is the operating partner and in charge of the day-to-day operations of both sides of the business.
“Bruce foresaw the need for a horticulturist in mid-1995 and after creating this position, initially offered it to a Hort classmate of mine, who referred Bruce to me in the latter part of January.
“Chiawana Orchards has 800 acres under cultivation in Mattawa, Royal City, Othello (these are all towns in the Columbia Basin), Richland, and on the Naches Heights. We are raising mostly apples — Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Braeburn, Fuji, and now Pink Lady. We have 18 acres of Bings and Rainiers, 9 acres of Red Clapp Favorite pears, and Bose, Bartlett, and some D’Anjou pears.
“Soon after my arriving on the job, Bruce purchased a neutron probe and sent me to Kennewick to learn how to use it. After that, I used a power auger to emplace aluminum irrigation pipe in the soil at sites where we want to monitor the soil moisture. In previous years, Bruce did irrigation scheduling “by guess and by golly”, but this year I am using the neutron probe to write recommendations for the ranch foremen. Already, we are seeing the benefits of doing so— less money being spent to run the pumps or to pay for water, far fewer losses of trees due to collar rot, and far less fireblight on the new growth of our pears and Galas. Data from the neutron probe is uploaded into my laptop computer, where the raw data is turned into files that show how many inches of water are available in each 6-inch layer of the soil.
“My other primary duty is pest scouting. In past years, we relied on fieldmen from the fertilizer and chemical dealerships to do the pest scouting, but their reports lacked internal consistency. Most of my previous experience with insects was here at my home, so this was something new. Thank goodness, we still have an independent pest consultant doing much of the Richland ranch. I call her every week and learn about what pests and diseases I need to be watching for. So far, I haven’t missed anything major although my reports of what I see are less detailed than hers. I feel glad that my weekly monitoring of every orchard block has given us justification for delaying or even omitting sprays, or has called for sprays when we didn’t know of the need.
“In an orchard block, I have at least one pheromone trap set out to catch male codling moths and pandemis or oblique-banded leafroller moths. I make weekly trap counts and then clean the trap. I also keep a record for each ranch of how many moth degree days have been accumulated so that we know when the first- and second generation of moths are about to hatch. Besides monitoring traps, I visually inspect trees to see what might be chewing on or discoloring the foliage, and 1 collect leaves from the block and scan them with a hand lens to see if mites or other hard-to-see pests are becoming a problem. Usually a day or two after visiting one of the ranches, I tell Bruce what pests are active and we discuss how to control them.
“I did some Agrimanagement-style soil fertility sampling in March in preparation for planting the Pink Lady and new Braeburn blocks at Richland and also at Mattawa to determine what might be the cause of poor growth on a four- year-old block of spur Red Delicious. The Reds are growing more vigorously now that .we have treated for nematodes and soil diseases and watered the trees according to their actual needs. They are in good enough vigor now that we can afford to let them grow a crop of apples this year.
“For my work, Bruce bought me a 1996 Ford half-ton pickup. It has air conditioning; I’m mighty thankful for that. Also, he provided me with a four-wheeler (all-terrain vehicle), which I use to travel from block to block with a given ranch; and with a cellular phone. So, I have a lot of ‘toys’ to keep track of.
My duties result in fairly long hours, typically 8:30 AM to about 6-7 PM, often followed by a 1-1/4 hour drive home from the Columbia Basin. Still, it is satisfying and very instructive to watch the weekly changes in our apple, pear, and cherry trees as they go from being almost fully dormant to blossoming, setting fruit, and now sizing it. This has to be one of the best jobs a NAFEX member who loves fruit and fruit trees can work at and be paid for.
“Of our ranch foremen, two are white and three arc Hispanic, and 100% of our orchard (and many of those on the packing line) are Hispanic. Virtually all of them are permanently settled in the Yakima Valley or Columbia Basin; there are relatively few migrant workers employed here. I’m glad for the Spanish that I learned in the spring of 1995 (a course taught at my church by the Spanish teacher at a Yakima high school) and am looking forward this fall to improving my knowledge of the language. I try to use it some but feel frustrated because I don’t have time to learn it better.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Bruce Allen and others in the packing house and ranches. It’s great to be working at a job where there is a lot of opportunity to make a difference in the lives of both the trees and those who care for them! The sunny climate and working outdoors are quite a change from interpreting seismic sections in a sealed building in Anchorage. Still, there are times when I miss Alaska, such as when the mercury approaches 100°F and it’s only 1 PM. On the whole, I have a lot to be thankful for.”