Bulldozed fruit orchards pose an enigma
Those living in California's tree fruit country are beginning to notice that orchards are being pushed out and often not replaced.
In an earlier era, the replacement often was houses. The area surrounding San Jose is a good example. Houses are everywhere, but an intact orchard is hard to find. Pear, prune, apricot and other tree fruit industries have adjusted and moved.
But houses are not waiting to be built in those bare plots of land appearing frequently now near Dinuba, Reedley, Selma, Kingsburg and Hanford in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. Nor are the property owners making plans to replant.
"It's the economy, stupid," was the slogan of one of our former president's campaigns. It's the same reason for productive trees to be pushed out and the orchard ground not replanted.
It's hard to explain, and even harder for veteran fruit growers to understand. Nutritionists are encouraging people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Either their messages are evaporating in thin air, or people are rejecting them in spades. Three servings, five servings, eight servings — it isn't happening.
Many growers and leaders in the tree fruit industry will acknowledge they have made some mistakes. Some have sent fruit to market before it was fully tasty in spite of industry-imposed regulations defining ripeness. All want to take advantage of early markets and the higher returns that go with them.
Consumers who buy that early fruit, only to find it firmer than they like and lacking in the taste and juiciness they expect, tend to delay their next purchase, sometimes for weeks.
Growers, researchers and industry leaders also must share some blame for developing and marketing more new, colorful, tasty varieties of peaches, plums and nectarines than the consuming public can keep up with.
It is puzzling that such worthwhile efforts have resulted in negative responses in the marketplace. Consumers are puzzled too, as they abandon the air-conditioned comfort of their favorite supermarket to scuff around in the heat at a farmers market or roadside fruit stand in search of sweeter, riper fruit, sometimes at lower prices.
Conversations with fruit growers, shippers, brokers and others in the industry often lead to the conclusion that it makes no sense. Indeed, it doesn't seem to, but the volume of fresh tree fruit consumed continues to fall. Orchard owners respond by pushing their trees out of the ground with bulldozers, selling them for firewood, or grinding them up in a green frenzy.
When the trees go out, equipment on the property remains. Irrigation systems, usually underground, remain, abandoned. Tractors, forklifts, other motorized equipment and containers occupy storage structures that stand as silent sentinels not over ghost towns, but ghost farms.
The absorption of greenhouse gases that trees perform so naturally is lost. The beauty, aroma and shade that trees provide disappears. Privacy for residents of those properties is gone. Life changes.
They say nothing is as certain as change. It will occur. It does occur. It is occurring. The cynic adds: "Like it or not."
"I didn't promise you a rose garden," the old song says. Nobody promised us endless orchards either. How or whether they will be replaced remains to be seen.
Some of those trees that are now firewood probably were beyond their productive peaks. Keeping somebody warm is a noble purpose for them now. However, they deserve a kinder epitaph than a catchy slogan about the economy, stupid.
CONTACT Don Curlee at firstname.lastname@example.org