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In a recent Facebook post I mentioned how lucky we were to have access to an abundance of farm water, never having to worry about running out. For the past few weeks we have done nothing but pump thousands of gallons onto our precious crops. Apples, Strawberries, Pumpkins and Sweet Corn can only go so long without a drink. It varies from year to year. Some years we get perfectly timed rains that do all the watering for us. Some years (like this year) we spend countless hours moving hoses, turning on and off the pump to get water on our fields. Mother Nature can bless us or make it difficult and that is farming.

Problem: Lack of Farm Water

As I mentioned we feel very blessed to have so much water. As I read about other parts of our state, country and around the world water has become a scarce resource. Cattle Farmers in the mid-west have not seen rain for months and are having to make the difficult decision to sell their cows. California has started to limit farmers on how much water they can use due to the lack of moisture. This makes farms use less land and thus produce less food. Around the world there are countless pictures of dry land that once was fertile ground used for growing a variety of food. With restricted water farmers have less freedom to grow the food our world needs.

Call to Action

I hate to sound all doom and gloom but this is a very big problem ourselves and future generations are going to face. The good news is that government and companies realize the problem and are working together on trying to solve this problem. We are very lucky to be involved in this process. As many of you know we have partnered with Snohomish County, 5G Open Innovation Lab and Innov8 ag to bring smart farming to the Snohomish Valley.

Solution: Water Sensors

One of the very first pieces of technology we installed was a moisture prob in our apple orchard which basically tells us how much water is in the ground. The prob will tell us when the tree needs water by measuring moisture in the ground every four inches all the way down to 24 inches. Before the installation of these moisture probs we had no clue how much water we should be feeding our trees. We would run our irrigation on our apples for 12 hours every 5-6 days, which now we know is way too much.

Our roots completely saturating and lacking an adequate amount of oxygen. By working with Innov8 ag and experimenting with the probs we are now able to apply 3 hours of irrigation every 3-4 days. This is a savings of over 50% in irrigation. Like I said water is not an issue for us, but what about those areas that are lacking water. Knowing the exact amount of water needed for your crops can be the difference of not thousands of gallons but millions for some of these larger farms. Thus making them more efficient and saving natural resources.

Lets Solve the Problem

Farmers have had to water so much more then any other year, it is one of the driest on record. I am proud to say that we are working much more efficiently in our orchard because we are utilizing information from our moisture probs. If other farms start adopting this technology I believe we can save an abundance of farm water.

There is nothing like walking through the apple orchard in early Spring. You can see the trees starting to take life and begin the process you work so hard to accomplish which is bearing fruit. A healthy properly kept tree will grow vigorously, produce fruit and most importantly fend off disease. But let’s be serious this is a pipe dream. I would love to paint the Instagram picture of the farmer walking through the orchard admiring the beauty he has created but that is just not true. Everywhere I look I am constantly frustrated by disease. Fungus to be exact, not only have my feet bared the brunt of this organic specimen but my trees have to deal with it too.

We live in Western Washington where fungus is everywhere, this is also a large reason you do not see commercial apple orchards over here on the west side. The east side of the mountain are much warmer where fungus cannot fester. Fungus can take over your orchard and effect your crop to detrimental portions. Fighting it is very difficult and takes a constant every changing formula to combat fungus diseases. Although we use some Fungicides we are trying to implement a more natural approach with newly developed organic sprays such as Timeguard and other assortment of oils.

This got me thinking what are some of the things you can use in your own home to protect your tree from fungicide. Warning: I have not tried this but after looking at the ingredients in our organic sprays these applications are not too far apart. Here are the 4 I think would work best.

Formula #1 (I like this one it will fight almost every type of fruit tree fungus)

Ingredients: 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda ,1 Quart Warm Water, Small Squirt Dish Soap

Directions: Dissolve baking soda in warm water and add soap. Mix carefully and test on the tree before spraying the whole thing. If this solution is too strong it will burn the leaves. Never spray this in direct sunlight, try to do it on days with little to no wind and in the late evening hours.

Formula #2 (this one is good for black spot, leaf spot and scab mildew)

Ingredients: 

1 Gallon Water, 3Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar ,Dash Of Molasses, Dash of Mild Dish Soap

Directions: Mix and spray in the early morning or late evening. Avoid spraying it on windy days or in direct sunlight

Formula #3 (the stinky one, protects against Powery Mildew, Downy Mildew and Leaf Spot)

Ingredients:

3 Ounces Minced Garlic,1 Ounce Mineral Oil, Dash of dish soap

Directions:

Combine garlic and oil and leave for 24 hours. Then mix into 1 gallon of water add the dish soap and spray. Avoid spraying in direct sunlight or on windy days

Formula #4 (this one I have never tried anything close to but apparently Corn Meal is a good remedy for fruit tree fungus or ant-fungus as it also stimulates micro-organisms)

Use 2 lbs per 100 Sq. feet of horticultural cornmeal or whole cornmeal. Spread around the base of the tree and activate it with water.

Ingredients

1 cup of cornmeal

1 gallon of water

Soak cornmeal overnight, then strain and spray onto the trees.

With the weather getting more mild and wet it is a perfect time for fungus to grow and spread. These are safe and effective ways to combat fugus on your fruit trees at home. If this does not work I would try a organic fungicide at your local nursery. If that does not work I recommend a conventional approach such as Captian, Bravo, or Rally. These are all very effective commercial grade sprays. Good luck and hopefully you can rid your trees of Fungus…..

I have been taught at a young age to pay attention to small details because without the small things there are really no big things that will be accomplished. How is it connected with the 5G food resiliency project?

When Linda Neunzig came to me and asked if I would be willing to participate in the 5G Food Resiliency Project, I said “sure” without even knowing what this program was about. I have learned through the farming community that when Linda says she has an idea you listen and say “sure”.

Problem focus by the 5G Food Resiliency Project

We have never had very good connectivity and has been an issue for many rural areas around Washington state. Connectivity is something that many people take for granted where we have struggled with it through the years. Everything we do is through a low broadband hot spot or dish network. This makes bringing any sort of technology to Swans Trail Farms almost impossible unless we have the connectivity needed.

During the Covid Pandemic we as nation realized how fragile our food supply chain was do to lost labor, shipping and distribution problems. It was something that needs to be addressed and improved. As the CARES Act started settling in the county saw an opportunity to strengthen agriculture in Snohomish County and beyond. This is where technology comes into play, no other industry while equally important has seen a lack of technology implemented as Agriculture. Manufacturing, healthcare, banking to name a few who have seen huge strides through the years in technology while agriculture has seen very little. By implementing technology farms will be able to grow more food in a smaller amount of space. It will make our crops more efficient and farms will not be as depended on labor with more automation. The 5G Food Resiliency Project will advance technology in agriculture.

Why Test the 5G Food Resilience Project

Think of the Food Resilience Project as a sandbox, its place to test new and cutting edge technologies that can be used in the future on different farms. Swans Trail Farms fit perfectly within the three criteria they were looking for. First and foremost our location to I-5 and Everett gave them the ability access sites needed to complete this project. Secondly we have apples which are the one of the top exports for Washington State along with a variety of crops such as Strawberries, corn and of course pumpkins. Thirdly we here at Swans Trail Farms are very excited about this program and how it can help benefit other farms in the valley and beyond.

When Did It Started

We have started using these new technologies in the apple orchard which is a main priority for this project. Last week we put in moister probs and a weather station. Along with WSU Extensiond and Steve Mantle from Innov8 ag we will be monitoring the amount of water and nutrients our apples will be getting throughout the growing season. These water sensors are a fairly new technology that will tell us when we need to water and when to shut it off. Just like the human body the amount of water you give an apple tree will dictate the health of the tree. In the past it was done by just a feeling with no real data telling us if we needed to water our trees.

It was basically a shot in the dark. We had no clue if we were watering too much or not enough. The moisture probs will give us the hard data.  It communicates a desired amount of water to grow the perfect tree. Washington State University also installed a cutting edge weather station that will measure anything and everything you can think of with weather. Each orchard has small microclimates within its orchard. This piece of technology will let us monitor those climates and react appropriately to the data gathered. As time moves on we will be excited to welcome other new innovative ways. It is make sure to bring technology to Swans Trail Farms.

What’s Next With the 5G food resiliency project

The 5G Food Resiliency Project will be a step in improving agriculture and the way farms grow their crop. As my father farmer Ben always said nothing great ever happens. It takes many small steps of improvement to make great things happen. I know this project is one of those steps.