Bobby Fifer is part of the fourth generation of his family running Fifer Orchards in Camden- Wyoming, Del., so he pays a lot of attention to tradition and the methods that have helped the farm grow since its 1919 inception.
But that doesn't mean he and the rest of the team aren't looking ahead too.
"We're doing a lot of GPS guidance and some variable rate seeding," Fifer says, beginning a litany of innovative practices the company is using to maximize production.
The Fifers are also using technological advances to help improve fertilization methods, conserve soil, kill pests and maximize fruit yields. It's the perfect marriage of today's high-tech world and a family's commitment to the agricultural life.
Over the past couple of decades, Fifer Orchards has grown from a farm to a multi-platform enterprise that covers nearly 3,000 acres and includes a market and entertainment, like hayrides and apple picking.
Bobby, along with his brothers, Curt and David, and cousin Michael Fennemore, has expanded the business, and that has resulted in burgeoning sales. Maintaining - and increasing - the pace requires a commitment to improving the effectiveness of methods in the fields.
Using GPS technology when planting allows for more targeted seeding, as well as the ability to determine which parts of the field are more irrigated and, therefore, more prepared to yield better results. Fifer Orchards is also able to moderate its use of fertilizer and lime, thanks to data it can gather from equipment in the fields.
"We do pre-sidedress sampling of the [fertilizer] to see if it has been bleached out by rain," Fifer says. "If it is too wet, it can lose its effectiveness, and we have to apply more."
Thanks to the targeted seeding, employing smaller trees that produce more fruit and more efficient use of feeding methods, Fifer Orchards doesn't have to tear up as much soil to plant and harvest. And thanks to advancements in pesticides, the Fifers can use products that target particular insects, rather than spraying a wide swath of chemicals and killing everything, good and bad.
"We can track the pests, and when we get certain numbers, we can go in with specific pesticides," Fifer says. "It's more of a rifle shot. The downside is that when you kill one insect, another species emerges to cause trouble."
It's part of the ongoing dance all farms do with nature to improve productivity. Fifer Orchards' nearly 100-year continuum blends old and new to create a successful result.
This article appeared in the premiere issue of Delaware Innovation Magazine, an overview of the state's cutting edge industries and the people leading them. See the whole issue here.