An orchard update from Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers gives insights on how and why the company is transitioning from traditional orchards to trellis systems.

Currently, the company has less than 20% of its acreage remaining in traditional orchards. 

It is a change that is happening across the apple industry, with benefits including higher productivity for the space, safer work conditions and quicker profitability, according to Domex chief horticulturist Dave Gleason.

High-density trellis orchards let companies use automated platforms between rows, and in the future robotic picking machines could be used as well.

Gleason referred to trees in traditional orchards as “dinosaurs,” only one or two of which might fit in the 32-foot space where eight trees can grow as part of a trellis system. The old trees are not practical in the modern environment, Gleason explained in the video update.

“It took a creative imagination to shape those trees to produce excellent fruit,” Gleason said. “People did it, but it took even 15-20 years sometimes to grow that tree to fill the space, and that was a long process and we invested a lot of money to get to that point.

“Now things are a lot more expensive,” Gleason said, “and we’re trying to be very intentional about how we develop these systems.”

Closer together and shorter, newer trees ideally reach full production in 5-6 years rather than 15-20.

Replanting an orchard includes choosing which variety to plant, removing the old trees, preparing the soil through disking, fumigation and any other treatment needed, placing the posts for the trellis system, and finally hand-planting the new trees, pre-production manager Parker Sherrell said in the video.

He noted that these techniques are cutting-edge currently, but given the constantly changing nature of the industry, they might be obsolete quicker than expected.

“You never know — maybe in 10 years Dave will be standing out in front of these trees and be calling them dinosaurs, too,” Sherrell said.