Monday, January 16, 2023

PACMAN: Malusim vs. Fruit Growth model app vs. Farm Vision

Precision Apple Crop load MANagement (PACMAN) is the topic of our time. Seriously, it is. Although I have to be a jack of all trades (pest management included) my heart lies in horticulture. And technology. (Although I am no computer geek like some people think I am!) So, I have been interested in the fruitlet growth rate model per Duane Greene et al for quite some time including onerous measuring of fruitlets for quite a few years.

The fruitlet growth rate model is one part of PACMAN which also includes precision pruning, blossom thinning with caustics, chemical fruitlet thinning, and finally – if necessary – hand thinning. Why? Because, particularly when growing high value varieties like Honeycrisp – or where size matters even more, like Gala – it’s money you are otherwise leaving on the table. (Thanks Rod Farrow for that bit of wisdom).

So, carry on, here is what I did for PACMAN in 2022. My main objective was to compare the fruitlet growth rate model when measurements were put into Malusim (MS app) vs. the Ferri-Fruit Growth model ‘FG’ app. In addition, and to make it more complicated of course, Farm Vision (FV) was in the mix. (And I later realized it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges though. More on that later.) I’m going to lay it out here pretty tersely for you to digest and form your own opinion on the value of using the fruitlet growth rate model as part of your PACMAN strategy going forward. Which I do recommend, with caveats as you will see.

METHOD

At the UMass Orchard (UMO) I chose Gala, Fuji, and Honeycrisp. Per my RECIPE for predicting fruit set, five representative trees were selected at bloom, number of flower clusters counted on each tree (for potential fruit set), fourteen flower clusters tagged per each of the five trees for fruitlet measurements beginning when fruitlets were app. 6-7 mm in size on 23-May and continuing subsequently on 26-May, 29-May, and lastly on 3-June, 2022. Unfortunately, although chemical thinners were applied, the details are sketchy and date of application(s) not included here for UMO.

Ditto for Tougas Family Farm (TFF) Northboro, MA for Gala and Honeycrisp, although over only three measurement dates: 21-May, 25-May, and 27-May, 2022. Here, chemical thinner application dates are noted in the results.

At both UMO and TFF, sometime between August and harvest the number of apples left on each tree were counted for the final fruit set. All make sense so far? Oh wait, on each measurement date I also did a Farm Vision (FV) scan using their provided equipment: smart phone, stereo video camera, and enhanced GPS location. And also did a final FV fruit scan to determine the fruit set in August.

FV scan on 3-Jun, 2022 at UMO, Fuji

There, now the results are presented in both tabular and chart form (Figures 1. through 5.). Ought to be self-explanatory, but we will see πŸ™‚ and more explanation will be included as it’s not always really pretty…

RESULTS

Figure 1. - Predicted fruit set Gala at UMO

A bit of explanation here which applies to all the Figures. There was one measurement date previous to all the initial measurement date(s) noted in Figure 1. (and Figures 2. through 5.). But that is not included because in Malusim there is no prediction. (No growth rate calculated on first measurement.) Otherwise, on the dates noted, those numbers in the tables are predicted fruit set (number of apples per tree) based on Malusim, the FGM app, and Farm Vision. Actual (count) in the Table was the number of apples hand counted (per tree) in mid-August. (Except for UMO Honeycrisp in mid-September.) Actual (FV scan) was what FV 'saw' on the trees mid-August. So you can compare that Actual fruit set to the Predicted fruit set on the last date of fruitlet measurements. Charts are table data visualized. All make sense now?

Gala-specific at UMO (Figure 1.), these trees are on M.9 rootstock, fully mature, tall-spindle. Bloom was spotty but five trees with approximate equal (and good) bloom density were selected. The overall objective here was to compare Malusim and FGM app when the same numbers were used. You can see they differed a bit. Why? Measurements were made by different people (on at least one date), and that could have accounted for some 'increased' predicted fruit set noted on 29-May. (That should not happen!) Advice: same person should measure on each date to keep that source of measurement error down with more consistent measurement technique (hopefully). Farm Vision here was in the ball park.  Oh, one more thing, not sure I am using the trend line appropriately, but I like it here...πŸ˜‰

OK, onward with the rest of the RESULTS (Figures 2. through 5.), with brief variety-location-specific comments.

Figure 2. - Predicted fruit set Fuji at UMO

Same story as Gala here with these Fuji (M.9 rootstock), with that uptick of predicted fruit set on 29-May, different measurement people, student interns? Malusim and FGM app were quite different at the end (3-Jun), FGM being right on compared to Actual (count). I should note that Malusim has instituted some error correction and will exclude measurements deemed to be outside specific error limits (too large, too fast growth rate). Not sure I like it because I think at least here it might have been discarding measurements that were indeed valid? Not sure, but perception is reality? Again, Farm Vision, at least on the last measurement date, predicted more fruit setting than Actual. Is this necessarily a bad thing as some fruit will continue to fall off, June drop, etc. I told you it was a bit ugly, but I am not casting any shadows yet after just one season of evaluation of Farm Vision. (BTW, they are now part of Meter Group/Pometa.) 

Figure 3. - Predicted fruit set Honeycrisp at UMO

At least Malusim, FGM app, and FV align pretty good here with these Honeycrisp on G.11 rootstock in their 9th-leaf. Actual (count) may be an underestimate as there were some drops which were not counted. But not so many to skew the results too badly IMHO.

Figure 4. Predicted fruit set Gala at TFF

At TFF there were only three (total) measurement dates for both Gala (Figure 4.) and Honeycrisp (Figure 5.). Hence only two dates of Predicted fruit set. These Gala were mature tall-spindles on G. 41. I do have some thinning information here, thinners were applied to these trees on 12-May (Promalin + AmidThin, bloom) and 20-May (Maxcel). But I was not worried about using the Predicted fruit set to help with thinning times and rates, at least here, where the objective was to just compare what the three tools were doing in predicting the fruit set. Got it?

Figure 5. Predicted fruit set Honeycrisp at TFF

Thinning regimen here on these Honeycrisp/G.41 was NAA (4 oz.) on 12-May, NAA (4 oz.) plus carbaryl (one pint) on 18-May, and NAA (2 oz.) on 27-May. No Farm Vision here, the equipment was not behaving properly. (Except for the Actual FVT scan.) Malusim and FGM app were close, but not close enough. As an aside, bitter pit was really bad in this light cropped block of Honeycrisp on G.41. Did I say G.41? (Friends don’t let friends plant Honeycrisp on G.41.)  

I have to say that 2022 was overall just plain weird, I mean the weather during the post-bloom period made chemical thinning applications a nail biting experience. What we saw and what happened kind of defied expectation. It was not a 'normal' year. (As if we ever have one?) Can't wait to see what 2023 brings... 😱

RECOMMENDATION

There you go, make of it what you will, there is lots more to dive into. But, I do know this is what I would do: follow the RECIPE using the FGM app. iPhone only unfortunately. Malusim has issues, although I do like the website interface. The app, not so much. But it does more than predict fruit set, and I hear it is being updated to include fixed voice input recognition in 2023. After the initial set up, it takes less than an hour (easily) to do the measurements (per variety per block) using the RECIPE instructions. Preferably with two people. And you get instant results via the FGM app, i.e. predicted fruit set to better inform further chemical thinning decisions. Period. One side effect often observed, is the actual physical process of measuring fruitlets gives better insight over time as to what is going on -- what is growing, and what is not -- that you otherwise get from simple observation from the truck window!
But, Farm Vision (now Meter Group/Pometa) has merits in its early stages. Plus it gives you a crop estimate later in the season for better harvest management. Lots of potential there, and it – or similar tools (FruitScout?) – are the future of precision apple crop load management. Well, then there are rovers and drones, but I don't go there, I let others. Flip-flop, check out Orchard Robotics. And here's a couple videos from Farm Vision you might get a kick out of. I did, reviewing them here in January 2023 when it is otherwise pretty bleak outside. Good luck in 2023...



UMass Orchard Gala - Farm Vision fruitlet scan on 26-May, 2022


Tougas Family Farm Gala - Farm Vision fruitlet scan on 25-May, 2022



Friday, January 13, 2023

The FRUIT GROWTH (FG) app

 The FRUIT GROWTH (FG) app by Joe Ferri – and mentored by his grower brother Tom of TK Ferri Orchard, The Blue Mountains, Ontario, CANADA – is an iPhone/iPad (only, no Android) app that does just what it says: predict apple fruit set based on the apple fruitlet growth rate model. Per the description on the App Store (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/fruit-growth/id1604255929), the FG app features:

  • Easy fruitlet size and cluster count input screens.

  • Quick apple set prediction results screen.

  • Full results easily shared to email addresses and Mac computers.

  • The Fruit Growth app accepts fruitlet sizes and cluster counts data to calculate the predicted number of apples that will be set.

  • The results are summarized in the calculated results screen. The full results Summary file (.csv) can be shared to an email address, internal device storage or air dropped to a Mac computer.

  • The fruitlet size Data file (.csv) can be shared for cut and paste to the Excel Fruit Growth Model (Ferri version).


I used the FG app in 2022 to predict fruit set in two Gala blocks, two Honeycrisp blocks, and one Fuji block. (Across two orchards, results forthcoming in a pending Fruit Notes article.) I found it generally easy to use and once fruitlet growth measurements are made on a given date it gives instant results predicted fruit set so further chemical thinning decisions can be made. One feature of the FG app allows you to do a split tree (top and bottom) calculation predicting fruit set. As you probably know, fruit set is often better in the tops of trees vs. the bottom. Thus you can target and be more effective with your thinning sprays. Below are a few screenshots from my FG app in 2022 (Figs. 1 - 3), and there are a set of excellent screenshots on the App Store (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/fruit-growth/id1604255929) so you can better understand how it works. For reference, per the Ferri’s, here are their specific notes on how to use the FG app once you download and install:


Fruit Growth Model Notes (Rev 3.0.0)


Select a Variety - to input the fruitlet sizes (Fig. 2)

  • Input the fruitlet size and Enter button

  • For fruitlet size measurement accuracy of 0.5 mm (e.g. if 12 is entered 12.0 is stored, if 12. is entered 12.5 is stored)


Note: Once all current measurements are completed, to advance for the next  sample date and measurements push the blue right arrow next to the date


When each tree fruitlet measurements are completed:

  • Enter Clusters button - to input the number of clusters per tree

  • Input the cluster count and Enter button

  • If two people are counting the clusters, use the + button to add the counts


Note: To delete all the last sample fruitlet sizes and cluster counts push the Trash button

Add Variety button (Fig. 1)

  • Enter the variety name

  • Choose the number of trees to measure

  • Choose the split or full tree option

  • (Clusters: Tree Bottom 1-6, Tree Top 7-14)

  • Save button - save the file name and settings


Manage Files button (Fig. 1)

  • Select a Variety

  • Results button - generate the results summary (Fig. 3)

    • Share Summary button- generate the full results summary .csv file

  • Delete button - permanently deleted the file

  • Import Data button - import a fruitlet size Data.csv file

  • Share Data button - generate the fruitlet size data .csv file

  • (used to cut / paste into the Excel Fruit Growth Model (Ferri) version)


Joe Ferri is actively updating the FG app, it is up to version 3.0.0. You can download from the App Store, it costs $17.99 but is money well spent. Alone, once set up (see my RECIPE for setting up your trees for using the FG app: https://ag.umass.edu/fruit/fact-sheets/hrt-recipe-predicting-fruit-set-using-fruitlet-growth-rate-model) I can complete a set of measurements per variety/block on a given date in less than an hour. It would go quicker with two people, and you get instant results predicting the fruit set. How good is that?

Fig. 1 - FG app iPhone screen “Add Variety/Manage Files”

Fig. 2 - FG app iPhone screen “Enter measurements”

Fig 3. - FG app iPhone screen “Results”




Monday, December 5, 2022

#iftaitaly2022

Wow, my third International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) event in 2022. Annual Conference in Hershey, PA in February, Summer Tour in Washington in July, and now just back (as I start wring this anyways) from Italy Study Tour, November 11-19. And we covered a lot of ground -- Bologna, to Venice, to Bolzano, to Milan. Some orchard visits but a good dose of bus time, tourist stops, and trade shows. I posted a real time highlight from each orchard stop on the IFTA Facebook page, I will bounce off those with more detail here, including a bit of one tourist stop for your entertainment.

Starting off in Bologna, spent a day at EIMA International 22, the International Agriculture and Gardening Machinery Exhibition. Simply huge, mostly indoors, many themed buildings. I found a couple toys I wanted, of course I have no money, but it was fun looking. I should mention on arriving in Bologna we -- approximately 150 of us on the Study Tour -- were treated to a visit and dinner at FICO Eataly World. No, not misspelled, apparently Eataly's are a thing that originated in Italy (Eataly, Italy, get it)? Eataly's are in major USA cities too, including an online store. Who would've known?

Little boy in toy store?

While still in Bologna, in lieu of spending another day at EIMA, I chose to go with Greg Lang (IFTA Education Director) and a sub-group of circa 40 grower-attendees to (one of) the University of Bologna research farm(s). First stop with Assistant Professor Luigi “GiGi” Manfrini was to look at various peach multi-leader/variety training blocks. Hmmm, interesting, I have to say there were a lot of questions here, not always answered, but our host definitely expressed some frustration with tree establishment and getting those many-leaders (certainly called UFO in stone fruit?) going at uniform spacing and size. I got the impression it was a hands-on experiment. IMHO peaches will be a challenge growing anything other than some kind of 2-4-6 scaffold steep leader because I think they largely grow like "weeds."

GiGi in the multi-leader peach experiment

We also looked at some apples, first with Professor Luca Corelli Grappadelli, an experimental block of trees where the primary objective was disease control (scab and fire blight) by covering the orchard thus eliminating "wetness."  Unsure how successful it was, but I did notice wooly apple aphid seems to love that protected environment. Corelli also showed us a rover/robot with autonomous navigation they are working on with an industry partner, purported to have multi-functionality (sensors, flail mowing, etc.)  and there was some discussion with him and GiGi about a "smart specialized sustainable" orchard. And GiGi showed us a multi-leader (UFO or 'guyotte') apple system trial, it looked pretty good, I am thinking UFO looks better in apples than stone fruit? And, first detecting a theme here, the sustainable smart orchard and multi-leader trees, we/you will see more...

Luca Corelli Grappadelli in the covered apple orchard

GiGi shows us his nice multi-leader apple trees

OK, enough of Bologna, departed and on way to Venice we did a couple orchard stops. First a cherry variety/training system by Salvi Vivai nursery. It was interesting, and I could relate, but not sure what my take-home is/was? Makes me want to grow cherries again, but planting them very close together (SSA?) and on Gisela 3 or 5 rootstocks (depending on variety)? (Note to self: don't be a glutton for punishment, just-don't-do-it!) 

Jacopa Diamanti shows us Salvi Vivia's cherry experiment

And then a significant planting of 'Rosy Glow' Pink Lady (Cripps Pink cv.) which had not been harvested yet. (Or it might have been first picked?) This was at the Mazzoni Group, a large multi-crop agriculture farm and fruit tree nursery. Again with some different training systems, bi-baum, guyotte(?), etc. Sorry for lacking detail here. I could not help wonder with the heavy crop load if there would be return bloom? Interestingly, fruit cracking was a significant issue, I assume because of the rather wet spring and early summer weather they seem to have? It was worse they said in tops of trees.

Mazzoni's Michele Gerin starts our tour of their large orchard, mostly Pink Lady and Fuji still on the trees

'Rosy Glow' Pink Lady experimental/production block covered with hail net

Crop load not as heavy as I thought, but I don't like that cracking!

In the afternoon, we visited C.I.V. - Consorzio Italiano Vivaisti, apple and strawberry breeders "we enhance nature" and nursery. Think CIVG 198 Modi®. Oh, what can I say? Focusing on "sweet and sustainable" varieties. I'd say half or more of the new apples they showed us were scab-resistant. We taste-tested a dozen or so new apple varieties in their portfolio, many of them numbered so not in orchard production yet. They ranged from "meh" to "pretty good." And got a look at some of their larger plantings for variety evaluation. We could look but not touch... 😎

CIV's Marzio Zaccarini leads us in apple variety tasting and tour of variety field evaluation orchard

So then, a free day in Venice. While in Venice, one must row to get around, seriously, there are no roads on the island of Venice.  So how about a Cicchetto Row with Row Venice and these four jolly rowers, left to right -- Nan, our instructor, not unlike a Marine drill sargeant who was always on your case about your rowing technique, high five! πŸ˜… -- and Marge, Molly, and Nicky. We all got the rowing down for a good 5 minutes straight (w/o being corrected by Nan!), rowing our way to some Prosecco, wine, and Cicchetto from a local bΓ caro...or two!

Nan and the Row Venice crew

Nicky, Molly, and Marge enjoy the Cicchetto

Departing Venice headed to Bolzano, we had a choice of going on a just apples (Jeff Cleveringa lead) or an apple-cherry tour (Greg Lang lead). Actually being a glutton for punishment, I chose the apple-cherry tour. Sorry, lacking many details here, but I will do my best. First stop was an experimental orchard site that (apparently) was a collaboration of Societa Cooperative Agricola and the Edmund Mach Foundation, which "promotes and carries out research, scientific experiments, education and training activities as well as providing technical assistance and extension services to companies." We got a talk about apple production practices in the Trento region from Tommaso Pantezzi, Centro Trasferimento Tecnologico, Fondazione Edmund Mach – Instituto Agrario San Michele all’Adige, and Nicola Andreatti, from Fondazione Edmund Mach. (It might, however, be the grower whose orchard we were in according to Greg Lang?) Also, we saw MORE multi-leader 'guyotte' style apple trees!

Tomasso Pantezzi and Nicola Andretti inform on apple production practices in Trento region including here a producting multi-leader block

For the cherry stop, up the road a ways, we were (after a long hike uphill) hosted by Angela Gottardell, Centro Trasferimento Tecnologico, Fondazione Edmund Mach – Instituto Agrario San Michele all’Adige in a cherry systems trial. The usual suspects, spindle, bi-axis, KGB (Kym Green Bush), and SSA (super slender axe). Looked like SSA and bi-axis were outperforming (in terms of cumulative production) the KGB and spindle. Would have been very interesting to see these trees pre-harvest, hint, maybe a summer tour to Italy is called for?

Angela Gottardell hosted and explained results at a stop in a cherry systems researchrch block

Last orchard stop before landing in Bozano was the Laimburg Research Centre. After an introduction by Dr. Walter Guerra head of the Institute for Fruit Growing and Viticulture, three research orchard block vists stood out. First, the Laimburg Integrated Digital Orchard, LIDO for short. Not to be confused with LIDAR, LIDO is an outdoor orchard 'laboratory' focusing on "the latest, state-of-the-art technology available on the market." Just planted with 'Rosy Glow' Pink Lady trained as 'guyotrees' the orchard was equipped with all sorts of sensors communicating over a long range low power wireless network. Also an overhead, fixed spraying set up for pest control. Checked all my boxes. Next a robotic harvester was a big hit with the group, however, it was in a test stage demo mode, yup, it picked apples. That's all I can say. Far more interesting to me was the training system demo by Dr. Christian Andergassen, fruit physiologist at Laimburg. There he was comparing apple yield and quality of Fuji and Pink Lady apples grown to traditional (for Italy) tall-spindle vs. various multi-leader approaches, including 'bi-baum' and 'guyotree.' Bottom line through the early production years? Fruit quality and yield was superior in the many-leader 'guyotree' system. He pointed out, however, that it depends on variety, Fuji being more vigorous and being less suitable to many leaders than Pink Lady. I think anyways...

LIDO, the Laimburg Integrated Digital Orchard, an outdoor laboratory



Dr. Christian Andergassen in his Laimburg multi-leader apple experiment

So, we finally made it to Interpoma 2022, the apple trade show. Words can't quite describe, suffice it to say it is THE International trade show about all things apple and pear, but of course with a focus on what's going on Italy-centric. I should do a word cloud about Interpoma. Wait, maybe I will! Followed by a few picts from the venue, Fiere Bolzano...



What could go wrong? Everything!



The apple variety "garden" at Interpoma

Lunch at Interpoma with my orchard friends from India, Vikram and Kunaal. Thanks guys!


Apple variety booths are a staple at Interpoma and quite flashy!

The "GuyoTree." Do they come like that?

Lots of equipment, platforms rule. N. Blossi is a local favorite?

I do want to thank IFTA (of course), Onward Travel (Molly, Kat, and Barbara), Greg Lang (IFTA Education Director), Jeff Cleveringa (IFTA President) for putting this altogether and (mostly) pulling it off without a hitch. 150 are a lot to herd and keep happy. Highly recommended if you have the opportunity to go on a future IFTA International Study Tour led by Onward Travel, wherever you go? (Hint: Norway, South Africa?) And thanks to Jim Krupa for putting up with me as his roommate for eight nights!

Monday, August 1, 2022

It's a takeover...

 Not complete, but getting there. Corporate investment in Washington apple orchards I mean. Back from International Fruit Tree Association summer tour, July 17-20, 2022. Starting out with a day spent in the Pasco/Eltopia/Moses Lake area and ending up with a day in/near Quincy. I skipped out on the final day cherry or pear tour up near Wenatchee as I had some personal business to take care of up in the Brewster area with Honeybear Brands/Pazazz apples and at Lone Point Cellars. OK, back to the IFTA tour with a few take-aways before I get to some of the orchard stop highlights.

  • Yes, corporate/private investments are taking over what were family orchards, and/or already consolidated orchard "ranches." The investment game is huge now, with orchards summarily being removed and replanted by these outside investors, lots of money, and it remains to be seen how it will all play out in the long run. Water rights play into acquisition decisions as water is like gold out there. (Although it's copious if you got the rights.) No doubt the nature of the Washington apple industry has changed in recent years big time.
  • The metal Auvil-style V-trellis remains popular, largely because it is the most productive per acre. But it presents some labor and automation challenges still.
  • The WA-38 'Cosmic Crisp' thing has been a bit of a bust, ultimate outcome still TBD. But there are up to 20 million (or as "few" as 10 million depending on who you talk to?) trees in the ground, representing a significant piece of the WA apple production pie when it all comes into production. There are production issues, however, mostly shy bearing and some quality issues. Tree training practices are debatable and prices for Cosmic Crisp do not make up for the shortcomings so far. Unlike the also troublesome Honeycrisp but at least the the price is better there.
  • The apple crop is off, maybe 110 million bushels vs. a more 'normal' 125? A cold spring including up to a foot of snow in April in places was suggested as one culprit, but last summer's extreme heat in June may have hindered fruit bud development too, a double "whammy?" Honeycrisp blocks were all light, except some I saw up in Brewster. Let's not even talk about the dismal cherry harvest, although again it was better up 'North.' 

OK, here's a brief summary of the individual tour stops, beginning with Day 1...

In Pasco at Hayden Orchard, grower of organic apples and cherries, we looked at a cherry rootstock grower trial, the darfing cherry rootstocks being from Michigan State University (Amy Iezzoni). Cass, Clare, Clinton, Crawford, and Lake (named after Michigan counties) rootstocks. Not really sure what they are looking for other than an alternative to Mazzard that might be a better fit on this V-trellis? Some talk of the new Coral Champagne cherry which they really like.

Denny Hayden, Hayden Orchard in his V-trellis harvested cherry block

Still in Pasco, at Douglas Fruit Orchard, WA-38 apple marketed as 'Cosmic Crisp' (CC) was the center of attention. A young (3rd-leaf, 4th-leaf?), lightly cropped planting  of WA-38 on four different rootstocks -- M.9-337, B.10, B.9, and G.11 -- looked OK to me, although there was some blind wood in his V-trellis and trees were kind of wayward 'lanky?' Apparently that is part of the training problem dealing with WA-38, it is tip-bearing, click pruning might be the solution? It's also been shy-bearing, not heavy-setting and per acre production is lacking so far. The blind wood may have been on purpose as it looked like branches were being trained to the V-trellis wires keeping the windows "clean." Apparently sunburn and fire blight are also issues with CC. I am not sure we saw another CC planting on the rest of the tour, but I undersand there are some good CC blocks where trees have indeed reached the top wire. I did see a lot of 'Enterprise' growing characteristics in these trees, one of CC's parents. It's literally still a (up to) 20 million tree learning experiment, that is "what is the the best way to deal with CC?"

Garrett Henry at Douglas Fruit Orchard discusses pros and cons of WA-38

Young V-trellis WA-38 at Douglas Fruit Orchard. Note lanky tree bottoms and blind wood.

After a real tasty taco truck lunch in their new tree storage at Cameron Nursery in Eltopia, we had a quick tour of the field with Todd Cameron. I will only point out that we saw a lot of rootstocks that were destined to be grafted with WA-38, but alas, were not because of lack of demand. Todd has also grubbed out 3/4 of his CC budwood seedling trees. Enough said? But I can't help myself, already over-planted? πŸ˜‰

No WA-38 to be found here at Cameron, just rootstocks growing. Well, it was suppose to be WA-38!

Leaving Cameron Nursery, and after a bit of a wayward bus ride, we arrived (eventually) just down the road at Columbia Reach Chiawana Orchards where all things orchard tech awaited us. First an introduction to the "Smart Orchard" Project, a collaboration of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Washington and Oregon State Univerisities, and Innov8.ag to "sensorize" the orchard. Sensorize meaing various sensors in the trees, in the soil, and in the air - weather; soil mapping, chemistry, and water; plant growth and stress. Lots of data with analytics and artificial intelligence to bring about better (smarter?) orchard management decisions? I was a little befuddled because I did not see it all coming together yet. And something that looked like a medieval torture device measuring just one apple's miniscule growth (and loss of growth?) spurts? Maybe they had such multiple devices? And maybe it is all in the name of science and investigation? OK, I will buy it, but some of it seemed excess. Then, Innov8 Ag showed off their ATV's equipped with many kinds of cameras and LIDAR and GPS and on-board computers. (What happens when something breaks?) It all works eventually I suppose, and mapping using data is no doubt a nearly mature technology and I could see the benefits of those colored yield (among other things) maps. Visualization and artificial intelligence are hot topics these days. But how much does it cost? I think that is what most were thinking. Looks like a no-brainer maybe for these larger corporate orchards, but I hope the technology can be adapted for smaller growers with scaled-down equipment and cost? In fact I/we (the PACMAN team) have been working with Farm Vision Technologies using a hand-held unit that provides similar functionality on a smaller scale and have been impressed so far.

Steve Mantle of Innov8 Ag talks about the "smart orchard" project, which uses many sensors collect data from the soil, from the trees, and from the air (weather). Including a device that measures fruit growth continually in very small units, which apparently can be a tell-tale sign of stress when the growth is interpreted properly. Feed me? Water me?

Decked-out Green Atlas Cartographer, part of the smart orchard project. Drives up and down orchard rows pretty fast and takes pictures of flowers and fruits that can then be fed to artificial intelligence to produce maps that assist management decsions. Sounds good. How much $$$?

Done with the "smart' orchard we were off to a pizza supper hosted by Automated Ag (home of the Bandits) in Moses Lake. I had another dinner date so I missed it, but not so our fearless IFTA Education Director Dr. Greg Lang who made sure he had a good choice of pizzas!

Wow, look at those pizza toppings! says Dr. Greg Lang at dinner hosted by Automated Ag

OK, that was all  Day 1 (Monday, July 18). Day 2 (Tuesday, July 19) we were up in the Wenatchee-Quincy area. First stop for my bus was RJK Farms where a rather animated Richard Karstetter -- along with his two sons (who were much quieter) -- talked about family dynamics and farm transition, along with some irrigation technology and other automation advances to make work life more efficient and engaging for the next generation. Unfortunately, I thought their Honeycrisp crop was a bit lacking, but we have already been there, most likely adverse weather related. 

Richard Karstetter at RJK Farms. He had a lot to say, believe me! Interesting guy...

Next stop for Bus 2 was McDougall & Sons Orchard. A shade cloth/hail protectant retractable netting was the highlight of the stop and was demonstrated by the McDougall & Sons team. If left in place pre-harvest, the shade cloth can hinder red color development, hence the need for it's retractability. McDougall & Sons is a vertically integrated grower/packer/ shipper in the Wenatchee/Quincy area with 4,000 acres of apples, pears, and cherries in the ground. Yikes!

Retractable (but non-retracted) protective netting over a Honeycrisp block at McDougall & Sons. Believe these were planted 2 X 12 feet, and may be in an organic transition. But they will go back to conventional in a snap if the organic market sours. Note it's a V-trellis but no metal, just wood...

After a BBQ pork sandwich lunch and a quick tour of the Starr Ranch Growers pack house (it was amazing, and home of Juici apples) we arrived at an AgriMACS, Inc. managed Honeycrisp block in Quincy where we enjoyed some real shade while the AgriMACS staff and Dr. Lee Kalscits from WSU extolled the virtues of overhead shade cloth netting to both prevent sunburn and hail damage (at least when it is installed in time). Last time we were in Washington for the IFTA summer tour we looked at different color netting, but it looks like the white color has become the standard. Interestingly, behind us was a block of Honeycrisp planted on G.890 rootstock, hoping for more vigor I guess? But the M.9's generally looked pretty good wherever we went (as long as there is no fire blight).

Shade cloth that serves double-duty hail protection at AgriMACS, Inc. managed Honeycrisp block. Inset is hail damage from June where netting was not installed in time. 

We are getting there, the final (at least for me) IFTA summer tour stop was Dale Goldy's G2 Orchards. Planted with 'Minneiska' (SweeTango) trees from his own Gold Crown Nursery, it's a 'pedestrian' orchard with -- believe it or not -- six feet between rows and tree height limited to app. seven feet. I believe these trees, mostly on G.935 rootstock, were planted 4.5 feet apart with some training of branches to the horizontal wires. I saw a lot of shoot growth coming into the row, I told Dale to get a hedger and don't look back! A lot of late hand thinning had been done. Interesting for sure, I did appreciate the overhead mist cooling being on as it was getting hot! Oh, we also had a brief look at a similar 'Hapi' pear block and some equipment modified to fit these truly 'dwarf' blocks.

Pedestrian 'Minnesika' orchard block at G2 Orchards. Note the late hand-thinned apples on ground? These apples might have been only a month away from harvest? Check out the misting video below, ahhh....



As I previously mentioned, I skipped the Day 3 pear and cherry orchard tours, but you can see and read a bit about them on the IFTA Facebook page. Overall, much thanks to the orchard owners and staff we visited, and the tour coordinators, including IFTA management. I found we spent a lot of time standing and listening though, would have appreciated some more facilitated give and take (pruning, training, thinning) like in the old days. Or maybe it's just me, too much time standing in the hot sun getting more brain-fried than I already am!!!???