Owned by brothers Joe and Al, Ridgeview Orchards represent half of the Dietrich farms in Conklin, Michigan. Ridgeview is just down the road from partner farm Leo Dietrich & Sons, owned by their cousins Jim and Mike. The two families are sixth-generation growers with ownership going back to 1853.
The Dietrich farms have a style of cross-management that keeps them closely linked, allowing both to grow together. “It’s great to watch kids grow up together and be leaders in the industry,” says Joe. “They have opportunities to learn about new technologies and advanced growing techniques.”
Over the last few years, Ridgeview Orchards has grown to maintain their strength against increasing competition. They increased their growing area to 800 acres, and they’re producing 25 million pounds of produce a year. This production is split between apples and cherries, along with asparagus, which they started growing 20 years ago to add more variety to their crops and meet local demand.
“We have to grow if we want to keep the family business going, and it’s great to see the next generation grow to care about it as much as we do.” In addition to that growth, technological advancements help support the increased yield.
With recent expansion to their controlled atmosphere storage facilities, Ridgeview Orchards now has the capacity to store 500,000 bushels in computer-controlled CA storages. The computer automatically adjusts air quality and keeps it flowing at a consistent rate, where previously someone had to check and adjust the air repeatedly throughout the day.
“It is a lot more effective,” says Joe. “The technology out there changes all the time now, so we just keep getting more and more efficient.”
New technology also allows the Dietrichs to pursue more sustainable and eco-friendly growing techniques. One of the most widely used techniques involves “smart sprayers,” which use infrared beams to detect trees trigger chemical sprays exactly where they are required. This helps reduce both chemical exposure to the environment and operating costs.
“Other industries talk about sustainability, but everything we do on the orchards is related to going green,” says Joe. “Each season presents new challenges and technologies that allow opportunities to improve our relationship with the environment.”
Each new year moves the Dietrichs closer to their seventh generation of ownership. Both Joe and Al have sons who went off to college and came back with the latest techniques and knowledge in the industry.
“They go to school and then come back to help us run the place,” says Joe. “We have to grow if we want to keep the family business going, and it’s great to see them grow to care about it as much as we do.”