Start Farming: Models for the Future

(acoustic guitar music) – [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. (upbeat music) – 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. (upbeat music) 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. It works. 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. (upbeat music) 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. (upbeat music) 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. (upbeat music) 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. (upbeat music) As far as barriers to
implementing this system, a, number one, cost. Upfront 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. (upbeat music) (upbeat rock music) – [Narrator] For more
information about the project, visit the Start Farming website. (upbeat rock music)

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