Facts Learned In Three Years Orchard Renting
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
w. S. PULLEN, HILLSDALE.
Four years ago when we began renting orchards we knew of no one who was making a specialty of this work. We soon learned of a few others, one of whom was our president, Mr. T. A. Farrand. In the section we chose, Hillsdale county, for a goodly number of fair-sized orchards making little or no returns to the owner, and in some instances very lightly valued by them. In fact the second man I went to see about -renting his orchard was plowing a stoney field and was not enough interested to stop on a corner and talk with me, so the deal was made while he turned a furrow and occasionally broke the Third Commandment as the plow handle hit him in the ribs, or he thought of the uselessness of the orchard on which I was endeavoring to keep his attention.
Of course, I was enthusiastic and possibly in my ignorance I was thinking how foolish of him to work so hard while this fine orchard on which apples and dollars would grow, with (in my estimation) so little effort.
We sometimes call these "pipe dreams" when others are affected the same way.
Well, I got the orchard on my own terms ; secured a light crop the first year and insisted on more pruning the second year than he was willing to do, so we changed the arrangement whereby I paid him cash rent, took all the responsibility of trimming and full care of the orchard, having all the fruit.
We trimmed quite thoroughly, our work being approved by the field men of the college, so it was done near enough right for experience to endorse. This second year we secured a full crop, got good prices and the owner was sick of his deal and inclined to explode occasionally be-cause of our success.
As is often the case, success made us anxious to get into the business on a larger scale, so we secured more orchards and interested several apparently reliable men -in a way that looked reasonable to prove profitable to both parties. Last year these men were successful in securing a very creditable crop, but we did not get on the market just right and the profits were not on the right side of the ledger to make it look good to them. The consequences was, they flunked and left the whole contract for trees on our hands for this year, so we have had about 4,000 trees over a territory that you can scarcely cover in a day's drive, with an automobile.
However, we have handled it this year with even less expense then when the others were interested. Have done some trimming in every orchard, have sprayed so that the fruit is as good as the average sprayed fruit (which is below the standard we aim at) and yesterday we finished picking. In one section the orchards were hit by hail early in the season, injuring the fruit to such an extent that none of it could be barreled. We have a large number of Greening trees, but because of the winter, these and some of the Baldwins had very few, and in some cases, no apples.
We have harvested about 3,500 barrels, 1,000 boxes of good fruit, six cars of bulk stock and perhaps five cars of cider apples. Now, what have we learned?
First, the terms of contract must give the renter absolute control of the orchard for a term of years that will warrant expenditures, trimming and spraying for scale, as few owners are willing to expend sufficient amount of money for trimming to bring about satisfactory results.
Second, that the average farm orchard has too many varieties, part of which at least are of little value for market, even when they produce a crop. We. believe rent should be paid only on standard varieties, but that the renter should have all apples except what is needed for family use for the spraying and care of odd varieties.
Third, the distance from a market or from the loading station is a big factor in the fall of the year. Teams are always expensive and sometimes very difficult to obtain at any price. Consider this well in renting an orchard.
Fourth, it requires a lot of men to handle a crop of apples in the allotted time. They cannot be found where they can live at home and work in orchards so scattered as desirable orchards are likely to be. To board and provide sleeping quarters, easily moved, is no small task.
Fifth, it requires about as many hands to properly pack as it does to pick a crop. Boarding and providing sleeping quarters for this part of the help can be avoided only by packing the fruit at a central point, preferably the shipping station. So we have arranged a packing house. All the fruit is put in barrels or crates, lightly headed and repacked uniformly at this one place.
Sixth, apples from different orchards, even with identically the same treatment, will vary greatly and a uniform pack is almost impossible, except in this way ; for instance, spies from an old orchard that has been dehorned, has a tendency to be light-colored, over-grown and poor keeping qualities even where all other conditions seem favorable. From a younger orchard and some times from an old orchard that has not been trimmed, medium size, high colored and good keeping fruit is often obtained. The cultivation or use of fertilizer may have a light effect.
Seventh, the owner of the farm could give the orchard the same care, get the same results and gather the fruit for much less than is possible for the renter to do. Especially after getting a good crop, we are made to feel that we have no right outside of those we have in writing, except in the orchard, and if we secure feed for a team or meals for a man and pay the full value for the same, we are still made to feel under deep obligations.
Eighth, storms, winter freezing or conditions over which the renter has no control, will occasionally ruin a crop. In this case the renter, having sprayed and cared for the orchard, should not also lose the rental money, but if he is willing to let the owner have what fruit there is, this should pay the rent for the year.
Ninth, better a good bunch of eight or ten hundred trees of one or two varieties rightly located, than to have more trees, badly scattered, with a worry and sleepless nights, especially when the wind blows or the mercury goes to settling down.
Tenth, I have stated that the owner can raise the fruit cheaper than the renter. The renter can only hope to offset the difference in cost by making better sales. Can he do so? The price in our section this season has been one dollar and seventy-five to two dollars on board cars, the buyer overseeing the packing. One renter of orchards has about 1,000 trees, made an exceptional sale, getting $2.50 per barrel and 27½ cents per hundred for cider apples. The purchaser did not pack this fruit close and still this man was pleased to have cleared up $50 per month for his year's work. With the wages commanded by a good laboring man in almost any line, this will hardly appeal to most of us as being an exceptionally desirable proposition.
Yes, we have learned something about the various diseases, scale, fungus, spraying material, pumps and gas engines, thinning, trimming, cultivating, cold storage, re-packing, borrowing money and just a little about marketing, but what we want to know is how to get 60 cents per peck for common stock, as they are now doing with the cheaper grades of apples sent to the cities, then perhaps we can tell you how to rent orchards and realize the ideals we had when we were more enthusiastic than we are today. But the fever will be on again as soon as we are a little rested from harvesting the crop. The possibilities are great, the opportunity is greater and the orchards in the grain-growing sections of Michigan will be saved only by men who make a specialty of orchard work.
Not out of place to mention the fact that better roads would greatly reduce our expenses both to haul the fruit and moving.
Compulsory spraying would be a protection from uncared for orchards.
Mr. Farrand—I think that Mr. Pullen has done very well indeed. (Applause.)
Some one has said that a little -knowledge is a dangerous thing. I should like to shake hands with the author of that statement, for he is right. That is what I have learned. One of the things I have learned is that when a man owns an orchard he could, if he would, work that orchard at half the expense that I can do it, and while that might be a loss to me, it would mean a profit to him.
Another thing I have learned is that while we try to profit by the experience we have had this year by preparing to meet the same contingency next year, that contingency doesn't happen, but something else does happen. It don't make any difference how long we have been in the business, in spite of our experience, something always happens to bump. While prices were good the first two or three years of our business, the last two years they have been low and poor.
Then, I have learned a lot about human nature. What I have had to contend with in the orchard renting business in five years has given me an experience that I would not learn in twenty-five years handling the crop of my own orchard.
The help problem is perhaps as great as any of the problems we have to contend with. It is a large amount of experience that one gets along these lines that you never meet at your back door. Then, you have everything to do with. But in the renting proposition the one great problem is how to get things done against obstacles. Obstacles will arise that you never thought of, never even dreamed of, and you must meet them when they come—you can't prepare for them ahead of time. You may prepare for them ahead of . time and then they won't happen. I have learned that what happens in one year in all probability will not happen next, and yet it may. That what will be profit-able one year will not prove profitable the next in the handling of our crop or in different lines. In getting all things done as they should be one often has to think quickly.
When you are away from home; the. sleeping problem, the barreling problem, and all these things, the team work especially and then the men in different orchards, working at the same time—why you can't be with them all, especially when you branch out considerably—these are all problems that we have to deal with and they are oftentimes more perplexing and harder to solve than you might imagine. There are so few people who will really work for your interests, but we have found (a brother is in with me) that when we are not on the job personally to control their movements it is difficult to get anything like satisfaction from the ordinary help that we are obliged to employ. It would hardly seem as though it would be this way but we have found it so.
Then, there is another side to this question, and perhaps it may be where some have made failures, where otherwise they might not have been. There are two sides to the proposition that interest me, one, the commercial side, and the other, the ethical side. When I see an orchard that has not done anything because of a lack of care, that orchard appeals to me to make it do something. It may cost me all that I make out of it, but I never hesitate at the expense to make it come up to its best and reach a standard that I try to have it attain, and I have the satisfaction of knowing in a goodly number of cases that I have done something for an orchard, have demonstrated that the application of the methods we have advocated for years, are all right, even though it has not proved a profitable investment from the commercial stand-point. I have in mind particularly an orchard that we have had for two years. It is a large orchard, and today it is one of the finest or-chards in the state of Michigan. When we got it it was in a very poor condition. A lot of things I didn't know then, but that I supposed I knew, I have learned since. This is a Northern Spy orchard. I found it to be 33 years old, and we invested quite a large sum of money in it. We find it takes a lot of money in the orchard renting business. You must spend money if you get any money back. We never picked an apple the first year, from this orchard. I suppose that orchard has borne three or four crops in the 33 years, and that is all.
Then there is another thing that we have learned, and that is that you want to have every thing put in writing so that it is known just what will be expected of each party, and then there will be no quibbing or getting around what is plainly the duty of the owner of the orchard, after he finds out that his orchard is made to bear better than he sup-posed it would.
Then we have found that it is well to have only a few varieties. Too many varieties are not good. By having two or three varieties instead of one in an orchard, and that gives you more time for harvesting.
A Member—With good apples selling at $2.00 per barrel, what encouragement have we to go on setting new orchards?
Mr. Farrand—The man who owns his farm can make a good profit at $2.00 a barrel, if he gets a usual crop. On the other hand, if you take an orchard, raise it, prune it, and for twenty years pay the price for labor—if I thought I had to sell my apples for less than $2.00 per barrel, I think I would look for something else to do.
A Member--Now this seems to bring us back again to the question of marketing our fruit. If we never have any more satisfactory means or better ways of disposing of our fruit it seems to me that we would hesitate about planting new orchards; but as was said, we must educate the dishonest packers to act right, but to truly educate a man you should start at the grandfather. The education will not be so very effective if you start in to educate now; that is, it will not have a very decided effect on the people you try to educate. I think that Mr. Smythe hit it about right that these people who haven't the fear of the decalogue before them ought to be made to do the right thing by law. The gentle-man from Canada says that over there it is unlawful for a man to market an apple that is wormy. What would happen if we had such a law here? There certainly would be a very different state of things than now exists.
Mr. Parker—I think that in this proposition something is touched more than appears on the surface at first thought. The high cost of living is determining the cost of the production of apples. It is also determining the law of consumption of apples, and when the percentage of the cost of living is 20% higher than the increase of the wage laborers, they cannot consume the apples. Now then, if this organization can tell us how the fruit growers of the state of Michigan can go to work and form a corporation with a stock company by which it can put one dollar in stock to six dollars of water, and then demand dividends upon that six dollars of watered stock, that is equal to the legitimate profit on six dollars actually invested then you will have the actual condition as expressed in reports of Dun and Bradstreet on financiers at Wall Street. When you can get at the conditions by which you can demand as they do, and increase equal to the high cost of living, and proportionate to the amount that they now ask on their watered stock, then you will have the problem solved. There are two thousand million dollars of dividends taken out of us by these people who do not actually have one dollar invested. When you can form such a corporation and with such laws that for each dollar invested you can demand that our people pay an amount that will bring the dividend on six dollars of watered stock, equal to what it would be if it was really invested stock, you can solve the question.
A Voice—What happens when the bubble bursts?
Mr. Parker. I would say it would be a case of glass apples. There are thousands of people going without apples for this very reason, but the thing that we want to do as a people is to go out of this bubble business.
The fact is, the middlemen that handle our fruit are the ones that are in control of that bubble to a.] large extent. I do not want to seem to be out of place nor to take this question into politics, but I would like to tell you of an incident in my life when the Homestead strike was on. I poured bushel after bushel of corn into the stove. There were three cars of coal loaded that was held up by the Homestead people until after the strike was declared off. They went to the Supreme Court to get these cars moved, but they did not succeed. It aroused my thought, to think that I should pour that corn into that stove in the place of coal, while they were starving to death for want of food. I tried to unravel the matter, and I found the same men owned the railroad that hauled the coal, also sat in the Senate, so until we can reach that Senate, we can never burst the bubble.
A Member—Should winter apples be put on racks, or shelves, or barrels, head up to keep best?
Mr. Wiles—I do not know as I have any more information on this subject than anybody else here, but before answering it I would like to say just a word—I don't see the need of planting apple orchards—I might be misunderstood from what I said, and some might get the idea that I was getting cold feet on apples, but that is not so. The right man in the right place is all right yet.
About the keeping of apples, we have cold storage. We can keep them in open crates, or anyway, without fear of shrinkage, because the ice keeps the room pretty damp. We spray the room with copper sulphate to keep the mold, down. When you store them in chemical storage, you must have tight packages. The Baldwins and Greenings will be wilted if stored in open crates. This letting air to fruit may be all right for keeping purposes, but it will not be right when you consider the salability of the apples. My idea is to keep the apples in a fresh condition, and to do so, it should be kept in ice storage, as we have, where it is damp—keep in closed packages, and cool enough to keep from molding or spoiling.
A Member—Is it necessary to have a cold storage? Would not a dry frost-proof room be fit?
Mr. Wilde—That would depend on the amount of money that you put in and where you were located. If it is away from the large towns, it would not pay to put the necessary expense necessary for an ice storage, when you can make a common cold air storage so much cheaper, which would accomplish the same results, especially if you were further north. Many people up there keep their apples to the very best ad-vantage. My storage cost me $6,000 at first and then $500 now and then for repairs. It is like an ice house, it rots. It is hard work to keep it from rotting. I close the door during the day time and open at night. If your apples are free from scab and worms you can keep them the winter through, but if they have scab you can not keep them at all after the spring. You must have the right stock, and then there will be no trouble about the keeping qualities. Here in 'Grand Rapids a couple of weeks ago apples were brought out of the cold storage which have kept all winter in my place and all summer in a neighbors, but they were perfectly free from scab.
A Member—What do you think of storing apples in a basement in bushel baskets? We have done this to some extent and put the baskets four tiers high. We don't put any covers on top but cover them with paper and then we have a board over the top of the baskets. And then we have a good degree of air circulating in the basement. We have nothing but apples in that basement. Just how long we could store these apples, and have them keep in good shape, I could not say. If they were put in without being bruised, and in perfectly good shape, I think they could be kept for a long time.
Mr. Wilde. That is not a hard proposition. I would say by all meane get smooth crates with narrow cracks, and use them preferably to any-thing else. These you can pile reasonably high as you cannot do with baskets.