Jul 17, 2015
Industry veteran rides the waves

Gary Pullano, associate editor for Fruit Growers News, is blogging this week from the International Fruit Tree Association’s Regional Summer Tour in Washington state.

Washington state apple grower Jim Doornink survived the turn-of-the-century (21st, that is) purge of fruit producers in the state, only to be left wondering whether he would be able to compete with larger producers in recent years.

Well, the proof is in the production – he not only found a way to hang in there in the midst of the Yakima River Basin, he’s about to the join the ranks of 100-bin-per-acre performers, a benchmark that’s becoming the gold standard for many producers in the state, and elsewhere for that matter.

Doornink has been a commissioner with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission since 1984. He is currently chair of the commission, established by the state legislature in 1969 to “promote and carry on research and administer specific industry service programs that benefit the planting, production, harvesting, handling, processing or shipment of tree fruit in the state.” It also coordinates with other public and private agencies to conduct similar research.

The commission conducts research on every aspect of tree fruit production, from rootstock development to improved post-harvest practices, all in an effort to take advance knowledge, improve practices and address the problems facing the industry.

Revenue comes from assessments on tree fruit growers. During fiscal years 2010, 2011 and 2012, the commission spent approximately $3.7 million, $4.3 million and $4.4 million, respectively.

Having spent his adult life working in the area of orchard management and horticultural application, Doornink is well acquainted with the fruit industry’s ups and downs.

One of the second-day stops during the International Fruit Tree Association’s 2015 Regional Summer Tour, the Wapato, Washington-based Doornink Fruit Ranch displayed a 5.3-acre block of Jazz, a club variety developed by New Zealand-based ENZA.

The block was planted in 2009 on M9-NIC29 as a nursery tree at 14 by 1.5-feet spacing. It’s irrigated with R-10 micro with cooling. It was pruned a bud sell to see fruit buds, then buds were counted and attempts were made to prune closer to crop load. Summer pruning will take place in a couple of weeks.

“We have good senior water rights so we can run cooling on this block,” Doornink said. “It should help color development so we can pick at the front end of the market.”

Chemical thinning consists of lime sulfur at bloom, followed at petal fall with Sevin + BA, and then hand thinning.

Production on the block was 40.94 bins per acre in 2012; 35.85 in 2013, and 90.75 in 2014.

Doornink also talked about a 5-acre gala block planted in 2009 on M-337 as a sleeping eye tree at 14 feet by 1.5 feet.

It also uses R-10 micro irrigation with cooling. It was pruned using full bud count at full dormant and also was pruned to space out the clusters of fruit. In the first year, Doornink tried using bud count versus traditional pruning. Hand-blossom thinning was done to singles with no chemical follow up.

Production on the gala block: 33.8 bins per acre in 2012; 54.8 bins, 2013; and 79.2 bins per acre, 2014.

Phil Doornink, Jim’s son, described a young gala block planted in 2013 at 12 feet by 2 feet. Training was up two leaders per tree for 3.630 leaders per acre. Another gala block planted in 2014 on F935 at G41 at 12 feet by 3 feet. Training up two leaders per tree totaled 2,420 leaders per acre.

Jim Doornink said use of platforms for picking has cut harvesting time by 20 percent to 25 percent.

“At the end of the day you’re helping your workers’ psychologically and physically,” he said. “But you still have the guys who say, ‘I want my bin, my ladder and my wife. They don’t want to work in groups.”

Doornink farms 200 acres of apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and apples, some of which is on the same property farmed by his grandfather.

Gary Pullano

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