family background/Noah is a fifth-generation farmer who graduated with a horticulture degree from Michigan State University. He’s married to Zoe Roth and is the son of Barb and Aaron Roth.
crops/Apples, diversified farm market
role/Family farm manager
business/Railside Orchards, Painted Turtle Hard Cider
What does the farm grow and where is it?
I knew since I was in middle school that I wanted to grow apples. For the most part, we focus on apples on our 160 acres right now. The larger-size trees are planted in 18 feet by 8.
Now we’re putting in high density with our new plantings. Our farm is south of Belding, which is one of the smaller apple-growing areas in Michigan. A lot of apples are grown on the Ridge in Sparta, then we’re over here, about a half-hour away in Lowell on Murray Lake.
We’re also about a half-hour away from Grand Rapids, which is the big city near us. We’re close enough to cities that our farm market and ice cream shop really works for us.
What are your new plantings like?
In West Michigan, the last seven years or so, the standard tree planting has been about 12- or 11-foot wide by 3 foot. In the last few years, several farms have started doing tighter than that.
Farms are trying to get a 2D fruiting wall, something that’s a little bit more efficient and gets higher quality. It’s especially important for a crop like Honeycrisp, where you have to do multiple picks. The 2D wall may reduce that down to one or two if you do a higher color strain.
All of our new blocks that we’ve planted are irrigated with deer fence around everything. After we put up the fence around our main farm, we saw a very significant yield bump the first year and a half. The irrigation system also worked out. I look at them as if they’re little children, so they get drip irrigation to keep them healthy. Last year, we did a block of double-leader EverCrisp, and we planted them in a 10-foot row with 2 foot between the leader spacing.
I really like the super spindle 2D walls. We get higher quality, the yields are really good, and they’re efficient as far as labor because the trees are short and thin.
As they mature, I think we’ll still be able to get enough sunlight into the bottoms throughout the day. It’s fairly pricey to plant, but in the long run, it’s more than worth it for our commercial side of our farm.
How did you prepare for the new blocks?
I spent so many days planning each block. Two years of planning went into the trellised, high-density U-pick apple block before we actually pulled the trigger and put stuff in the ground.
We’re already planning and putting irrigation line in for the next farm that we are going to plant. We want to have it ready so that as soon as the trees go in the ground, we have water running.
It was something that we learned planting in one of our dry summers. It helps after planting, too. We could get 6 inches of rain in a month, or we could get zero. So, you have to be able to help the trees along as best you can with fertilizer and water.
What would you tell other young growers about farming?
It’s not for everybody. It is a lifestyle more than a career. My wife and I had conversations about it before we got married.
We had to have those conversations about what the farm would need of me. And it’s not going to really change. The farming routine is something that you need to think about when you’re dating. Some days I wonder if I’m going to be done at 6 p.m. or if I’m going to be spraying until 3 o’clock in the morning.
I’ve always wanted to farm, and I want my kids to be apple growers, too. You’ve got to really have the drive to want to do this. If you don’t, you’re not going to be successful in it. So yeah, you gotta really want it.
—by TJ Mullinax