Business: Ziemke Farm Fresh Produce
In business since: 1990
Location: Zillah, Washington
Doosan machines: DX225LC-5, DX180LC-5 and DX180LC-3 crawler excavators; DL250-5 wheel loaders
Doosan dealer: Feenaughty Machinery
About 60 miles southeast of Mount Rainier, Washington, is the Yakima Valley, a scenic agricultural region known for its apple, wine and hop production. The Yakima Valley has the largest variety of fresh-grown produce in the Pacific Northwest because of local farmers and growers like Brad Ziemke, owner of Ziemke Farm Fresh Produce.
Farming wasn’t Brad’s first profession, but it’s been a lifelong interest. After a few years working at a lumber mill in Renton, Washington, he decided he needed a change.
“I had been there for three years and was the second-highest-paid worker in the mill, but I felt like the lumber industry was going south and the job was a dead end to me,” Brad says. “So, I ended up quitting.”
Brad drove to Yakima, Washington, in his pickup truck, bought a bin of apples and cherries and started selling fruit on the side of the road. In three short years, business was booming, and he had five produce stands throughout Seattle and Tacoma. Within a few years, though, he was having a difficult time getting farmers to supply his stands, so he decided to buy a farm to grow the fruit himself.
“Honestly, I was working myself to death driving back and forth between my stands,” Brad says. “I decided that I enjoyed farming more than the stands, so I closed them and started exclusively farming.”
Brad began farming a few acres as a hobby for himself and to provide produce for his friends and neighbors, but it quickly turned into a full-time business. Today, Brad has six employees and farms 150 acres of vegetables, including cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, as well as fruits like apricots, cherries, peaches and nectarines. The produce is packed and sold directly from the farm to local grocery stores and produce stands around Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
About five years ago, Brad wanted to find a way to keep his workers busy in the fall and winter months when the produce side of the business slowed down, so he decided to start offering orchard removal services to his friends and neighbors. Using an old excavator and dozer, the crews removed blocks of fruit trees to make way for new tree varieties and planting practices.
“There was a need for orchard removal in the area, and it’s really ballooned into something quite substantial,” Brad says. “We typically have five or six jobs going on every day.”
To keep up with his expanding business, which now runs almost year-round throughout eastern Washington, Brad decided to upgrade his heavy equipment fleet and met with his local equipment dealership, Feenaughty Machinery.
“When we started looking for a new excavator, we looked at many manufacturers,” Brad says. “We don’t build roads or work in construction, so we had to have the right equipment for orchard removal. I was weary of trying a new brand since buying a machine is a sizable investment. However, when I came across the Doosan equipment brand, I took a chance. Now much of my equipment is orange. Orange has become my color — even my pickup is orange.”
Brad owns four Doosan® crawler excavators — two DX225LC-5, a DX180LC-5 and a DX180LC-3 — and two DL250-5 wheel loaders. He pairs the excavators and wheel loaders with attachments for efficient tree removal.
“When I started using Doosan equipment, I realized how much more productive I could be with a bigger machine,” Brad says. “I didn’t realize I needed a larger machine than the DX180LC-3, but since I bought the DX225LC-5s, it’s made my job a whole lot easier.”
Brad says that today they are one of the top orchard removal businesses in Washington, distinguishing themselves from the competition by focusing solely on orchard removal — unlike other companies that may also do construction work.
“We’re really focused and have the right equipment for this process of orchard removal,” Brad says.
Production Leads to Profit
Since starting to use Doosan equipment, Brad has been able to easily keep up with the increasing demand. Most jobs span 10 to 20 acres and require only one machine.
“After bidding out a job, we go in and take the DX225LC-5 or DX180LC-3 equipped with a grapple attachment,” Brad says. “Our excavators can pull four to eight acres a day, depending on the size of the trees and the terrain. Plus, pairing the excavator with a grapple attachment allows me to pick up and carry three times the amount that I had been.”
On average, Brad and his team take out three or four rows of apple and cherry trees and roll them into one windrow, which is a line of material heaped up using a machine. Some of the trees are 70 years old with trunks three feet in diameter, requiring the extra oomph of Brad’s largest excavator, the DX225LC-5.
Brad then uses the two DL250-5 wheel loaders to pick up the removed trees and transport them to a grind or burn pile. One wheel loader is equipped with an optional rearview camera for better visibility on the farm, while the other is designed with a high-lift option to easily load the material into high-sided trucks.
Once the crew moves the material to the grind or burn pile, they use another brand of equipment to rip out the roots and disk the ground, which is then ready to replant in summer.
Whether the crew burns or grinds the material is up to the orchard owner.
“Grinding is considerably more expensive for farmers,” Brad says. “But there are no permits or regulations when grinding material. We can usually move and grind about 10 acres a day.
“However, there are some strict regulations on burning. We have to push, pile and burn and then come back 30 days later to remove the debris. Most of the time we are grinding the material since it’s more environmentally friendly.”
Brad has developed a market for the ground material, which has allowed him to make grinding more affordable for orchard owners.
“It’s the greener way to go,” Brad says.
While orchard removal is the company’s primary job, Brad also uses his equipment year-round on his farm.
“If you’ve got it, you use it. I do my own orchard removal, prepared ground for a greenhouse, and do irrigation pond work,” Brad says. “I’ve been running Doosan equipment now for five or six years. I’m very happy, and that’s why I keep going back.”
Brad Ziemke, owner of Ziemke Farm Fresh Produce, is a direct kind of guy when it comes to choosing his equipment. When he was in the market to buy a new excavator, his local equipment dealership, Feenaughty Machinery, decided to take him to the Doosan hands-on product testing and education site called the Real Operation Center — commonly known as The ROC — instead of bringing the machine to his jobsite for a demo.
“It really opened my eyes to what equipment Doosan has available,” Brad says. “I was able to drive both bigger and smaller equipment. That’s where I learned the 225 was probably as big as I’ll need for my work, but if I ever have a need for other equipment, I’m definitely going to take a look at Doosan. It really impressed me.”