Nick Hammond (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)grower / The Dalles, Oregon
age / 32
crops / Cherries
business / Foreman for Curtis Orchards
other experience / Works with bush-sized trees based on Australian system and central-leader and steep-leader systems.

How did you get your start?
I started out farming with my parents in our peach orchard. We farmed that until I was about 15 years old, then my Dad got sick and we stopped farming. That’s when I started working for my cousins who lived down the road, who own a cherry farm. My first job there was cleaning up dead wood using a polesaw, pulling the limbs out and putting the brush inbetween the rows. I really liked it and enjoyed doing it the next summer, too.

What about now?
At the cherry orchard, we spend a lot of our year pruning. It’s a fun job that truly makes or breaks your year, and it definitely is an artform that not just anybody can do. For us, we farm bush-sized trees based on the Australian methods—central-leader and steep-leader systems. We have really good results from it, with nice fruit.

What system do you favor?
We’ve started planting a lot closer together compared to the old-style spacing of maybe 20 feet apart. Now we’re planting 10 feet-by-16 feet. With the bush-style trees, we are going 6.5 feet-by-15 feet, trying to get everything tight and get our production up. Hopefully get our tons-by-acre up while maintaining nice, big fruit.

What are some of the benefits of the newer systems?
The biggest benefit to these systems is—well obviously some people are worried about the labor shortage, and having people up on ladders is dangerous, especially in the old trees where you are using 14-foot ladders.

We’re trying to get the trees down to a maximum ladder height of about 10 feet. Our tallest trees in the tight plantings are about 12 feet, and with our bush trees we aren’t even using ladders. We’re cutting them off at 8 feet to get that pedestrian style orchard. These styles just make everything faster and safer all while trying to give our pickers a reason to keep coming back.

Why are you a grower?
For me, I love to farm. It’s an ever-changing industry. We aren’t doing the same job for more than a couple months. So, growing cherries is something I love and I couldn’t think of doing anything else. There’s always something that happens or coming out—from new varieties, rootstocks, pruning systems. There are times, like this year when we had a freeze in The Dalles, that challenge you. We have to be very smart about keeping up with the industry.

What do you see in the future?
I’d like to see more technology get into the orchard. We are kind of in the dark ages when it comes to that on our farm. The thing I’d like to see improved is a better system to pay workers by the pound. It would make it more fair to the picker and fair to us as farmers. We need better technology, and it’s only going to come from the young growers.