It’s always a tough decision to let go. All the years of time invested — for better or for worse, all that hard work. You’ve spent some of the best years of your life together. Maybe you grew up together, maybe you found each other when one or both of you was older. But it’s obvious that you aren’t meeting each others’ needs anymore
It’s time pull out the chainsaw and fire up the backhoe.
I’m talking, of course, about the relationship between a farmer and an orchard.
Deciding to the end the life of an orchard is never an easy one. It’s a difficult decision both emotionally and economically. Trees don’t live forever, but orchard trees (fruit and nut) will definitely outlive their productiveness if allowed to. Once this happens, you can keep pruning them, fertilizing them, and watering them thinking “next year will be better”, but you’re just throwing good money after bad. The opposite can happen as well, a downward cycle ensues where less and less money is made on the orchard and less is spent. In some cases, the orchard ends up abandoned.
The proper time to remove an orchard is while it is still producing, so you can use the income from the last crop to remove the trees.
Tearing out an orchard is expensive. Most farmers don’t have the equipment to dig up giant tree roots and dispose of them so they must hire specialized contractors. Once the trees are gone, the ground must be made useable again — the root holes filled in, the soil plowed, and the entire field leveled so that something else can be planted there. If you’ve run out of money trying to keep the orchard alive, you may not have any left to take the old one out — much less plant a new one.
Imagine you have had a job for 20 years, and then one day you went to work and your boss told you he needed you to keep coming to work but you would have to wait 6 years to get a paycheck. This is exactly what happens when, after tearing out an orchard, you plant a new one. You have to invest years of time and money before that farmland again produces an income. Some farmers in this situation choose instead to sell the orchard to someone else with more capital.
But it’s not just economics. Trees are living beings, and people develop attachments to them. To the average person, say a cyclist or commuter who has passed by an orchard reguarly for years, seeing it torn out can be depressing. So just imagine how you would feel if you or your parents — or grandparents — had planted and nurtured those living trees for decades and you had to make the decision to end their lives.
Most of the orchards that we farm at Terra Firma were planted decades ago by someone else, and we are not the owners. While we often have emotional attachments to these orchards, it is also very clear to us when they are costing us — and their owners — more than they are producing in income. This can lead to contention with the owners, who are often in denial and seeking someone to blame. Orchard Counseling is not an option.
We can’t force anyone to tear out an unproductive orchard. But we can take action when we see the handwriting on the wall. For several years our old rented orchard where many of you have picnicked in the shade at Farm Day, has been in decline. In 2010 and 2011, we planted apricot trees on another piece of land to ensure that we would have an adequate supply when the old orchard gives up the ghost completely. The new trees produced their first small crop this year, and by next year, they may produce as much or more than the old orchard. By 2014, they will make all the apricots we need.
The cycle of co-dependency continues.