Many orchardists view deer as pests because they munch on the leaves of young trees. But Bridget Bailey, vice president for food safety at Orchard View Farms in The Dalles, Oregon, has a plan to protect deer and elk in the neighborhood of the orchard.
It’s one way she is fulfilling the requirements of a stringent quality certification program that’s needed in order to ship cherries to the major U.K. retailer Tesco.
While meeting EurepGAP standards is sufficient for most U.K. buyers, Tesco has its own, more demanding program called Nature’s Choice, which is based on best farming practices, not just good practices.
One of the most important aspects of the Nature’s Choice program is to track the timing and quantity of pesticide use, and even identify the driver and tractor that apply pesticides. The company had to build a new pesticide storage facility, which was a significant investment, but Bailey said she felt it needed to be done anyway.
What the company did do specifically for this program was design and document a plan to protect and encourage diversity of flora and fauna.
“To me, that’s very separate from agricultural production,” Bailey said. However, it was an important part of Tesco’s program. “It seems their consumers are very interested in sustainability of the environment as well as the food product.”
With the help of wildlife and U.S. Forest Service specialists, Bailey made inventories of local wildlife and plants, and identified elk and deer as the most threatened by farming in that area. To protect them, the company will maintain oak tree buffers, which is where the animals traditionally feed, and provide travel corridors so they can access those areas. Often, when a new cherry block is planted, deer fences prevent them from reaching that habitat. In the future, when the company expands production, it will be accomplished by farming more intensively, rather than expanding to new ground, Bailey said.
“The best thing we could do is plant more densely so we don’t have to take over more of their habitat. And I think that will be more sustainable economically.”
Tesco is also concerned about protecting birds. Bailey invited a falcon owner to bring his birds onto the property in the hope that they will scare away birds that eat the cherries.
She thinks bird control will become increasingly important as cherry production becomes more competitive, because fruit losses to birds can be significant. She sees falcons as a better way to control birds than netting, since many birds get stuck in nets.
To increase the diversity of plants, while at the same time helping the deer and elk, the company is planting shrubs at the edge of the orchards for them to feed on. These include mock orange, serviceberry, and bitterbrush. More flora will be planted in the company’s housing area.
Orchard View will also plant more diverse grasses between the orchard rows, including some that won’t need to be mowed as often. As well as saving time and energy, this might have the added benefit of not moving pests from the ground cover into the trees, she believes.
To conserve the landscape, the company has committed to maintaining creeks on the property and will preserve some historic barns.
No dogs allowed
The Nature’s Choice program prohibits domesticated animals in the orchard, and Bailey said it’s worked out well to have workers leave their dogs at home. “Just because you love your dog, it doesn’t mean other people in the crew want your dog to be hanging around. We think that was a good policy.”
In fact, Bailey is positive about the program overall. She believes that to get the highest value from the fruit, certification is necessary, even though it is difficult to become certified initially and involves a lot of documentation. “It’s encouraged us to do great things,” she said.
The company will pack and ship the equivalent of about 700,000 cases of cherries this season. Tesco is Orchard View Farms’s largest single customer and could take as much as 10 percent of the crop. Bailey thinks many aspects of the program can be addressed without much additional expenditure, and it might help make the farm a nicer, and more sustainable, place.
Bailey said she’s had to learn about and document every detail of the business to figure out how to integrate the requirements into the company’s sustainable economic plan.
“It has to be sustainable economically or we can’t do it,” she said. “My job is to sustain the family business.”