Orchards and vineyards cover millions of acres in the state of California, where everything from grapes and avocados to almonds and pistachios are grown. Many of these acres are cleared every year, either to be replanted or replaced for land development or conservation purposes.
Agricultural burning has long been the predominant method for orchard and vineyard removal, but in recent decades, concerns over air pollution and wildfires have prompted legislation banning or restricting the method. Presently, agricultural burning is set to be completely phased out in California by 2025.
This creates lucrative opportunities for companies like G & F Ag Services Inc. The family-owned operation has specialized in orchard and vineyard removal since 1991, and its methods have evolved with the times.
“We started by burning the orchards, but soon saw the writing on the wall that California was considering phasing out open-field burnings,” said Founder and Owner Randy Fondse. “So, we knew pretty early that we needed to take the next step in how we do things.”
Prior to starting G & F Ag Services Inc., Fondse worked in power plants running grinders. This experience was instrumental in moving from field burning to removing and grinding. The company takes pride in completing jobs efficiently and with respect for the land, always aiming to leave clean, level fields and ground that is revitalized and ready to be planted with the next crop.
Fondse places a big emphasis on two things: well-trained staff and top-of-the-line equipment. G & F uses a sizeable fleet of excavators and wheel loaders to remove and transport countless trees, brush and other organic material.
Much of this is then run through tub grinders, horizontal grinders and trommel screens, and ultimately processed into three-inch wood that is delivered to biomass plants.
G & F keeps busy. It’s not unusual for eight or nine crews to be working on many jobsites at one time. Therefore, productivity is the name of the game. Fondse has owned other brands of grinders but has observed a noticeable difference in production since switching to the Vermeer HG6800TX horizontal grinder.
“Let’s say the other brand of grinder could do nine acres per day and the Vermeer grinder does 12 acres per day. That’s three more acres per day,” said Fondse. “And when you’re filling up 100-yard trailers for transport, that’s two or three more loads per day. Or 200 to 300 more yards of material per day.”
It’s not just more loads — it also helps the operators in the experience of G & F. “The key is in how the tree feeds into the machine. Sometimes the jobs just wear you out. But with Vermeer grinders, the trees actually feed better, so the operator feels less fatigued after a 10-, 11-, 12-hour day.”
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