CHOWCHILLA, Calif. (KFSN) --Word spread quickly around the valley about a tree-eating machine which can clear entire orchards.
It was a startling sight in Chowchilla. Entire almond trees cut down and chewed up - blossoms and all - then turned into mulch in just a matter of moments. AgriLand farm manager Jed Webster watched the demonstration and admitted, "Oh it's an impressive machine."
The magical disappearing act brought out farmers as well as the curious down from the mountains who thought this Iron Wolf would also be good to cut fire lines. University of California farm advisor Brent Holtz said, "I knew there'd be a big crowd because there's lots of diesel and power here."
The Iron Wolf can return 45 tons of organic matter per acre back into the orchard. It was designed for sub-soil separation in Canada's frozen tundra. Company president Todd Howe explained, "They will eat the trees into the ground like you're seeing here and the ground is frozen. So they've got rocks, tree balls, trees."
Normally, excavators have been used to push over old or dying trees before they're put into tub grinders. The Iron Wolf simplified the process but it costs a million bucks. Webster said, "It has a big potential if it's economical. If it's cost effective for the farmer. I think that's the biggest question with this machine."
Wood chips from orchards in the past were taken to be burned for energy at co-generation plants. But many of those facilities have closed around California so growers need new options. Holtz said, "Sort of the mission here is to get growers to start thinking about yes we can put all this organic matter back into our ground. It's going to benefit our soils."
Holtz added the process creates more fertile soil. But growers watching the crushing display seemed to be more impressed by the big machine that eats trees for lunch.