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Specialty Crop Tour for Young Growers - Heller Orchards & Schwalm Farms

April 2013
Andrew Schwalm demonstrates the asparagus harvest assist.

Andrew Schwalm demonstrates the asparagus harvest assist.

Clair Kauffman, Young Grower Alliance

On April 2, a small group of Young Grower Alliance (YGA) members assembled for a spring tour.  As usual, I was educated and inspired by the tour and by the chance to share stories and ideas. 

Our first stop was Heller Orchards in Wapwallopen, PA.  Greg Heller, whose grandfather once farmed the same land, was our tour guide.  Heller Orchards has a long history of dwarf apple plantings.  Greg’s father was possibly the first grower in the U.S. to plant M9 rootstocks in 1956. 

The Hellers grow peaches, apples, pears, and cherries and market the fruit about 50/50 wholesale and retail.  With the recent purchase of some new acreage, Greg has been able to plant quite a few more trees on an impressive array of intensive training systems and rootstocks.  His most intensive planting is on 32 inch spacing in the row.  The entire orchard is either irrigated or has access to irrigation water. 

Heller’s recently purchased a Munckhof Pluk-O-Trak harvesting machine.  The Pluk-O-Trak doubles as an orchard platform with adaptability for a variety of orchard tasks.  Greg has high hopes that it will improve labor efficiency and enable him to hire only local workers. 

For lunch, we headed to Schwalm Farms in Hegins, PA.  Our tour guide, Andrew Schwalm, served up some impressive pork barbecue made with his own recipe. 

Schwalm Farms was purchased by Andrew’s grandfather and is now operated by three generations of Schwalms.  They raise apples, peaches, pears, corn, and soybeans.  Currently, they are expanding their tree fruit acreage with trees and transitioning to more intensive plantings.  They sell almost all of their crops wholesale.

A significant portion of our tour was spent looking at their staggering 10 acres of asparagus.  Andrew built his own asparagus washer/cutter and two harvesting machines.  The harvest machine is a gas-powered machine that straddles the row and is operated by foot pedals to allow a person to both operate the machine and cut asparagus with both hands.  Andrew would like to build a third machine and modify his two existing machines to be run with electric motors. 

Andrew also shared with the group his positive experience with GPS technology for yield monitoring and planting.   

Thanks to all who made this tour possible!