Young Grower, Packer Running At Full Speed

On a hot day in late July, Jason Kuehnle, a young, aggressive vegetable grower and packer was busy hustling. He was in the midst of supervising and working alongside packing employees who were boxing bell peppers for shipments all over the Midwest and beyond.

Kuehnle, 28, learned early and fast that aligning yourself with the right people is the key to success. He graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in horticulture in 1994. Now out of college and moving full speed ahead, he’s in his fourth season of operating Lake Michigan Produce LLC, a vegetable packing line, and growing squash and peppers on 160 acres in and around Hartford in southwest Michigan.

“A big part of my success are the key people that do a good job for me,” Kuehnle said. These key people include one person in charge of irrigation and spraying, two people in charge of harvest and one person overseeing the packing line, a new addition this year.

Jason Kuehnle (left), vegetable grower and packer in
Hartford, Mich., hired Gasper Soria (middle) to coordinate the harvest and Ron McKinven to supervise packaging.

Kuehnle started working on his father Robert’s farm in Hartford. His father has grown vegetables, apples, peaches, plums, grain and also raised livestock. Kuehnle’s father started farming with grandfather, Rod and his brother Kurt currently still farms with his father.

He knew the only thing he didn’t want to be was a farmer in his first year of college. That changed when his father gave him more responsibility and let him make more decisions.

“As I got more responsibility it made it more interesting, more exciting,” said Kuehnle. He took what he learned from MSU, especially the business classes, and his first year out of college branched out on his own.

“I was a little more aggressive than he was at that point. I wanted to grow at a rate faster than my father,” said Kuehnle, adding that he and his father still help each other out. He said he especially appreciated the tremendous help of his father on the packing line this spring.

Early on Kuehnle spotted a vacant piece of land and made a cold call to Hilltop Nurseries in Hartford. He currently rents acreage owned by Hilltop in Hartford, Decatur and Watervliet and he leases space in a Hilltop Nursery building for his packing line and produce warehouse. He operates the produce warehouse with his partner, Wayne Bradford.

“Hilltop’s been real fair with me. They’ve been very helpful owners,” said Kuehnle, about Ken Swank and Jim Hartman, owners of Hilltop. He does plan to buy his own land in the future for firmer control of his ventures. He said he plans on doubling the size of his current operation. When he does manage this, getting the correct equipment for safe practice will be crucial – certainly he’ll need something similar to to make sure heavy produce is loaded safely.

The best part about having trusted employees in key positions is a little less hustling from the vegetable fields in different locations and back to the packing line. “It’s the challenge of being in five places at one time,” said Kuehnle, who relies on a cell phone to communicate with his 60 workers and drivers.

Kuehnle said the hardest part of managing employees is the language barrier. “As long as you treat them well and show them they can work hard and make money, they want to work and it goes a lot better,” he said, about supervising workers.

“Stay positive” would be Kuehnle’s advice to other young entrepreneurs. “You have to have a positive attitude to overcome difficulties. Surround yourself with good people. With farming so much is out of control,” he said.

On a typical summer day Kuehnle starts picking peppers at 8:30 a.m. after it warms up a bit. He stays out in the field until about 12:30 p.m. when it’s off to the packing line from 1-7 or 8 p.m. Then he’ll hang around and help in the shipping area until about 10 p.m. He says the support of his wife, Elizabeth is critical, especially in the hectic months from mid-April through October.

“I receive, cool and ship all my product, along with several other farmers,” said Kuehnle. He said he is happy with the work of Cal Ceel & Sons, based in Niles, Mich., who sell his product to chain stores in the Midwest, the south and Texas.

This year’s yield for squash was good but the market was low, according to Kuehnle. He said that yield and market for peppers looks good. Kuehnle said he’s also evaluating a couple of different crops for the future.

This was the first year his peppers went to a packing line, which helped create more consistent, high quality boxes of product, he said. This packing line also gave his company the capability of packing specialty boxes. With the help of external companies like Pro-Tect Plastics, who provide shrink wrap tape to attach materials together, his boxes of produce will be able to stay fresher for longer, increasing their demand.

Kuehnle’s employees were done packing his 30 acres of squash in late July and will pack up to 6,000 boxes of bell peppers a day in early August. Packing peppers from his 160 acres was just getting started, when workers packed 2,500 bushel and l/9th boxes per day. Kuehnle said he averages 180,000 boxes of vegetables per season.

Reprinted from The Vegetable Growers News – August 1999

Preparing Drip For Winter

Winterizing Irrigation Systems
By scheduling a winterizing program, you will ensure the life of the watering system and head off any potential start-up problems in the spring. Winterizing is accomplished by properly draining the system before the onset of frost and snow in order to prevent the expansion of water left in the system – and the subsequent cracking of irrigation lines.

Here are several tips to preparing a system for winter, depending on the type of irrigation installed:


Hay Baler Used to Roll Up Plastic After Harvest

A standard hay baler can compress plastic used for growing vegetables into a 4-feet by 5-feet ball, saving growers money in labor and disposal costs.

Ron Goldy, Michigan State University Southwest district vegetable agent, piqued the interest of growers after he showed them baling techniques at six different farms in Southwest Michigan including a demonstration on Sept, 20.

When it comes time to discard the plastic, vegetable growers who use plastic face disposal costs of $300-$350 per large construction bin. Goldy said 270 pounds of plastic are used per acre. With 3,000 acres of plastic used in Michigan that’s 810,000 pounds of plastic. Typically a grower piles up the plastic and loads it onto a construction bin before it is taken to a landfill. With the baler growers can compress four to five acres of plastic into a bale that they can lift with a forklift.


Rule of thumb: Be able to deliver at least one acre inch of water per week to the root system of the plants.

One Acre Inch of Water is approximately 27,000 Gallons.

For orchards with one or two emitters per tree that have been grower installed into polyethylene trickle tubing, the formula for calculating the number of hours of irrigation per week that is necessary to apply an acre inch of water is as follows:


Drip Chemigation: Acid

Acid Injection
Mineral precipitates can form deposits (scale) that clog emitters. The most common deposits are calcium or magnesium carbonates and iron oxides. Since precipitation occurs more readily in water with a high pH (above 7.0), precipitation of these compounds can be prevented by continuous injection (whenever the system is operating) of a small amount of acid to maintain water pH just below 7.0.


NETAFIM – Successful Drip Irrigation Systems


Netafim’s integral drippers are injection molded using state-of-the-art precision machinery. This enables Netafim to produce drippers with the widest and shortest water passages on the market.

Each integral dripper includes a precision molded filter. The position of the filter ensures that water is not drawn from the wall of the lateral, where sediment is most likely to form. Both of these unique features – the size and shape of the water passage, and the integral filter – combine with the high turbulence of the special patented dripper teeth to make Netafim USA drippers highly resistant to clogging.

Independent studies have shown that Netafim’s integral drippers are by far the most clog resistant dripperlines available in the world.


Roberts Irrigation RO-DRIP® User Manual


An ongoing commitment to tradition, integrity, and innovation have made Roberts Irrigation Products one of the world’s leading producers of micro and drip irrigation products, including RO-DRIP and RO-DRIP XL drip irrigation tapes. We have spent enough time in the field to recognize the practical needs of row crop growers like you, and have applied the latest precision manufacturing methods to produce a drip tape system that meets these needs.

Our RO-DRIP and RO-DRIP XL drip tapes represent the practical application of today’s latest technologies to the long-felt needs of growers. Throughout this manual you will find short captions titled “The Roberts Difference” located in the margins of each section. These captions describe some of the unique benefits of RO-DRIP products for drip irrigation users.


A Systematic Approach to Optimizing SDI Operation and Maintenance

Abstract: An SDI system represents a significant investment which can reap substantial benefits if managed properly. Assuming system selection, design and installation were appropriate, proactive operation and maintenance techniques should be adopted to optimize SDI system performance. The discussion will focus on systematically addressing five critical Operation and Maintenance topics, and will draw upon both old and important new information recently published by leading universities, associations and companies..

The topics include:

  1. Establish baseline readings
  2. Monitor key system operating parameters
  3. Perform key maintenance activities routinely
  4. Apply fertilizers and chemicals properly
  5. Schedule irrigations strategically.

Data from these activities should be collected and organized such that trends may be monitored and adjustments in technique or frequency be made as necessary to optimize system and crop performance. Mastery of these and more advanced topics will very likely reap substantial increases in profitability, reduction of resource use, and sustainable success.


Summer Drip Irrigation System Maintenance

Summer is the time for many things, including drip irrigation system maintenance. Many drip systems have adequate filtration, chemical injection and flushing capabilities, but extra attention and diligence may be required this season. This is because growers are reporting that water and fertilizer quality is worse than ever before, creating a challenge for even the most experienced drip irrigators.

The attached document, “A Systematic Approach to Optimizing SDI Operation and Maintenance” was recently presented at the ASABE meeting in Reno and may be helpful. It provides information on several important topics and serves as a reminder that irrigators should:

  1. Routinely monitor system pressures and flows and compare them with target readings. If pressure or flow is too high or too low, several different problems may be occurring, such as leaks or clogging. Use the System Troubleshooting Guide on page five if the cause is not readily apparent.
  2. Apply maintenance chemicals if warranted to control pH and/or to control organic matter. Remember that pH control is especially important if chlorine is injected – at higher pH it is not effective. See page nine for a list of problems and treatment options.
  3. Flush the system at a high enough velocity and long enough duration to cleanse sub mains and laterals of debris. Flushing inlet pressures and flows may be significantly different than normal irrigation pressures and flows – refer to the charts on page 13-15 for guidance. Inadequate flushing will waste time and resources, create a false sense of security, and may lead to clogging that could have been prevented.
  4. Control pests such as insects or rodents that damage drip lines and electrical wires. Many strategies are presented on page 15, and excellent pictures are available in the second attached document, “Diagnosing and Avoiding Damage to Drip Tape” prepared for the Irrigation Association by the Irrigation Training and Research Center, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
  5. Apply fertilizers properly by injecting upstream of the filter, and performing a jar test prior to injection to insure compatibility with the water source and other fertilizers. In addition, refer to the Fertilizer Compatibility Chart on page 19 for an indication of whether certain combinations will create clogging problems. Fertilizer quality can change from year to year, and even batch to batch. Checking compatibility cannot be over emphasized!

Every situation is different, so it’s not unusual to need help. Give Toro’s staff a call if you’d like to discuss system maintenance, or
any other irrigation related topics – we look forward to your call.


Diagnosing and Avoiding Damage to Drip Tape

The evolution of drip tape materials, drip tape emitter pathways, and hardware to connect, install, and remove/retrieve drip tape has been nothing short of phenomenal since the early drip tape days of the 1970’s. Drip tape has been successfully used on millions of acres of cropland, often with exceptional savings in water and improvements in crop quality and yields.

A major advantage of using tape materials, as compared to harder wall hose and emitters, is a low price per foot. But this tremendous advantage brings with it a higher sensitivity to physical damage. Precautions must also be taken to minimize problems with plugging  the relatively small flow passageways of the emitters. This is not to say that problems will unavoidably occur with drip tape – but problems have occurred and they are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed.