Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

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Nazinga Farms From marginal to productive

November 30, 1999  By Dan Woolley

Kelly Penner had big dreams when he came to Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in the late 1990s.

Kelly Penner had big dreams when he came to Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in the late 1990s.

Born and raised on a poultry and wheat farm near New Norway, about 65 miles south of Edmonton in central Alberta, Penner liked what he saw in the Annapolis Valley. And he thought the apple industry appeared to be the most viable commodity sector in Nova Scotia.

“Basically, I would say I had a passion for agriculture,” said Penner. “I was in construction and I wasn’t totally satisfied with it because of my agricultural background.

“Partly, I wanted to try something different and partly, it had to do with our little church group here,” he recalled.

Penner is a follower of the Mennonite faith and is part of a growing Mennonite congregation in the valley.

In 2000, Penner purchased 110 acres near Aylesford, N.S., which included an old orchard planting of Spies, Cortland and Idared, dating back to the 1960s. He named his farm Nazinga, in remembrance of a game park the Penner family visited while performing relief work in West Africa.

“I bought the land on which the existing orchard sat,” he said. “Its trees were doing poorly so I replaced them, not realizing how marginal the land was.”

According to Scotian Gold Cooperative vice president of operations Larry Lutz, who recently stopped at Penner’s farm as part of the 2010 Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association’s orchard tour, the site consists of very heavy wet clay soil and required Penner to spend “a tremendous amount of time improving it – fumigating, draining and ripping the soil, ridging the rows.”

The first year in the orchard, Penner installed tile drain and ripped the soil. However, he discovered that was not enough. He then decided to land form the terrain, ridging and sloping the orchard rows so the surface water would drain down the tree rows.

That was his biggest challenge. It was also his biggest surprise because of the amount of effort required to shape the land so surface water would drain from the orchard. Despite the costs in time and labour establishing and improving his operation, Penner believes it was well worth the effort.

“Oh yes, I would do it again.”

According to Lutz, Nazinga Farms offers an interesting case study of how a very marginal orchard plot can be renovated to a new peak of productivity.

Penner has converted the orchard extensively, planting Gala and Ginger Gold plus a significant number of trees under the Honeycrisp Orchard Renewal Program (HCORP). He is currently achieving good productivity from his Honeycrisp blocks, which are planted on M26 and CG30 rootstocks. His newest block is Sweet Tango, which he planted in 2009.

Penner looks forward to continuing orchard renovations on his operation, which he runs with the help of his wife and five children.

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