Chelan Fresh is proud to represent the growers of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties in Washington State. In the coming months we will regularly introduce them to you in our “Meet the Grower” series. Check in regularly with our blog - To The Core - to find out what’s happening in the orchards that produce some of Washington’s Finest Mountain Grown Fruit.
This month we caught up with Steve Stamps and talked about the challenges facing small growers and how altitude can impact the growing season.
Chelan Fresh (CF): Hi Steve! Why don’t you start by telling us what fruit you grow?
Steve Stamps (SS): Well, like everyone we’ve tried to diversify as much as we can. Right now in apples we’ve got Fuji, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala, and a few Red Delicious. We also grow Barlett and d’Anjou pears.
CF: Where is the orchard?
SS: We have two sites: one site near Union Valley near the rodeo grounds, and the other is north of town 5 miles, out by the airport on Howard Flat.
CF: So the two sites are at different altitudes?
SS: Yes, and different soil and frost concerns and things like that. They’re completely different. And that’s a good thing since having different locations can make it easier to escape different frost times, the rain times and the hail times because you’re more spread out.
CF: Does it also affect the kinds of varieties you put in there?
SS: Yes, but that’s more true for cherry growers, where they might be looking for varying locations to get different timings on harvest. It’s not as important for apples. Higher elevation can maybe grow a Honeycrisp a little better. Where it does make a difference is when spring comes early and we’re harvesting early. You can miss those cool nights we normally get which color up certain varieties like Honeycrisp, Fuji and Gala. Elevation can play a big role in that.
CF: What’s happening right now in the orchard?
SS: The buds are just now breaking so we’re looking to do our first dormant spray to catch all the bugs that overwintered in the buds. Our first priority is pest control. Then irrigation systems are coming online so we have to get them ready. All the cleaning and the prunings need to be dealt with – you’ve got to get your orchard cleaned out. There’s a lot of work. Sprayings can be busier than harvest time.
CF: Are you having any issues finding labor?
SS: We’re pretty small and we’re lucky that we have two families that have been with us for 27 years, so we’ve got some good people we can rely on. That said, in the industry the labor issue is becoming more prevalent each year.
CF: Do you have any concerns about how the weather is shaping up this year?
SS: It looks like we should be close to a normal bloom time at the end of April. That’s a bonus at the front end for frost control and it hopefully puts us in a better situation at the other end at harvest time, where we’re back to a normal harvest time and we have some cool nights and the right conditions to deliver the highest level of quality for our varieties.
CF: You know, “normal” isn’t a word we hear a lot when it comes to orchards…
SS: Haha! We are gamblers, we roll the dice every year. I’m a third generation grower and my dad is 88, he still works every day. He’ll be going into about his 70th growing season so he’s experienced a lot of different conditions over the years.
CF: Wow, that’s amazing. And how long have you been in the growing business?
SS: I started going to the orchard with my dad before I started kindergarten. Later I went to college and got a business degree, but I’ve home ever since and it’s been an awesome experience. There are more challenges today than there ever were before.
CF: And do you see any of your kids joining the family business in the future?
SS: I really doubt it. I mean, they help at times but we’ve downsized to the point where it’s probably not a viable thing for them. There’s been a lot of change. A lot has shifted towards the bigger companies. The small grower is way more challenged than he’s ever been.
CF: Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything you’d like to add?
SS: Being a grower is a great life. I like being outside, I like being my own boss and setting my own hours. But it all comes with challenges and I right now I think we’re more challenged than ever.