Sunday, March 10, 2013


I just returned from the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) 56th Annual Conference held at the Boston Copley Marriott from February 23 to March 2, 2013. Hereafter, I will refer to the Conference as #ifta2013boston as I started tweeting from the Conference and it looks like social media (see IFTA Facebook page) has started to catch on a bit with otherwise very progressive horticulturists/fruit growers. 

First, on Saturday, March 23 were two Pre-Conference Intensive Workshops. Altogether, there were about 200 attendees split between "Strategies for Improving Production Practices" and "Managing Pick Your Own Tree Fruit Operations." I spent time in both -- in the "Strategies" session Equilifruit disks were passed out and explained how to use by James Schupp of Penn State, and I won't forget Tom Chudleigh's comment in the "Managing" Workshop: "It's easier to increase revenue $10,000 than decrease expenses $1,000!" Thanks to Pre-Conference workshop organizers and moderators Mo Tougas, Phil Schwallier and Duane Greene for successfully kicking-off #ifta2013boston!

Then, on Sunday, despite the weather, the show must go on, but barely! With perseverance, an excellent Pre-Conference Demonstration by Greg Lang (Michigan State U.) and Lynn Long (Oregon State U.) in front of 100 cold, snowy-wet attendees on pruning dwarf cherry systems at Tougas Family Farm. And then Jim Schupp (Penn State U.) showed us how to prune quad-v intensive planted peaches. (Pictured right.) It's typical to have some kind of weather-related obstacle during these winter orchard visits, and we in Massachusetts did not disappoint!

Monday morning the Education Sessions commenced. Loosely titled "Innovation in Production" and "Innovation in Automation" these Monday sessions were attended by nearly 350 fruit growers and other industry representatives from at least 11 different countries. (But mostly from the United States and Canada.) I should note the overall theme of #ifta2013boston was "Insights into Innovative Orchard Technology." Dr. David Rosenberger of Cornell's Hudson Valley Lab delivered the Carlson lecture titled "Societal Changes are Creating Opportunities and Challenges for Fruit Growers." The Monday afternoon "Automation" session was organized by Tara Baugher (Penn State U.) and featured speakers working on the SCRI-funded "Comprehensive Automation for Specialty Crops."

All-day Tuesday, February 26 was the Field Learning Tour which went to three orchards in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire. Six 50-passenger buses (thanks A Yankee Line!) were split between a North and South route but all visiting the same orchards. On the South Route (which I was on) we stopped at (in order): Belkin Lookout Farm, Natick, MA; Tougas Family Farm, Northboro, MA; Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA (for lunch); Brookdale Fruit Farms, Hollis, NH; and Parlee Farms, Tyngsboro, MA. So much practical pruning, growing, and marketing information on apples, peaches, and cherries at these typically diversified New England orchards. Terence Robinson (Cornell U., pictured at right) was instrumental in getting discussions going between our orchard hosts and tour attendees.

Returning to Boston Tuesday evening after a long-day in the orchards, enthusiasm for the cider silent auction to benefit the IFTA Research Foundation was still high as we enjoyed a New England boiled dinner of corned beef and cabbage during the 2013 IFTA Awards Banquet. Speaking of awards, here are the deserving recipients:
  • Carlson and Outstanding Researcher Award  -- Dr. David Rosenberger, Cornell University
  • Outstanding Grower Award -- Tougas Family, Northboro, MA
  • Outstanding Extension Award (tie) -- Win Cowgill, Rutgers U. and Jon Clements, UMass Amherst
  • Hall of Fame Award -- Art Thompson (deceased), U. of Maryland
  • Industry Service Award -- Elwin 'Stub' Hardee (deceased) & Family, Hollis, NH

Thanks to Banquet emcee Tim Welsh and cider silent auction organizer Ken Hall for a fun and productive banquet! Announced near the end, the cider auction raised nearly $6,000 for the IFTA Research Foundation!

On Wednesday, Education Sessions resumed. For the morning, the topics were "Innovation in Technology and Varieties" and during the afternoon "Innovation in Climate Change Strategies & Production" were featured. A featured speaker during "Technology and Varieties" was Neal Carter of Okanagan Specialty Fruits who are trying to introduce non-browning Arctic Apples to the USA. His talk "Apples and Biotech -- Why They Fit" was followed by Nancy Foster with USApple's "View from the Hill." One of the best talks of the afternoon was Jeff Andresen's (Michigan State U.) "Climate Change 101 for Fruit Growers." Andresen (pictured left) painted a challenging picture ahead for fruit growers with increased likelihood of seeing earlier springs and more frost/freeze events like those that occurred during 2012.

On Thursday morning two buses (100 attendees) left Boston for the Hudson Valley of New York for the Post-Conference Study Tour. First stop before leaving Massachusetts, however, was the UMass Cold Spring Orchard where Redhaven peach and Honeycrisp apple NC-140 rootstock plantings were visited. Then onto Thursday PM stops in the Hudson Valley:
  • Yonder Fruit Farms in Valatie and Hudson, NY for tall spindle apple planting established in 2012 and Delicious Pruning/Rootstock trial respectively
  • Golden Harvest Farm and Distillery, Kinderhook, NY for Applejack and other spirits sampling
  • Fix Brothers Farm, Germantown, NY for Orsi platform demo and older "tall spindle" apple pruning discussion
  • Mead Orchards, Tivoli, NY for diversified fruit and vegetable farm marketing discussion

And then overnight at Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel for dinner on our own. (I heard the Bull and Buddha was pretty good!)

Friday early morning we departed Poughkeepsie across the Mid-Hudson Bridge for Cornell's Hudson Valley Lab in Highland. At the HVL we were treated to indoor laboratory and outdoor field research being done by the HVL's scientists -- Rosenberger, who is also Director, on pathology; Peter Jentsch on entomology; and Steve Hoying on horticulture. It was all very informative and these researchers (and Extension educator Mike Fargione) at the HVL provide essential support for Hudson Valley fruit growers who maintain open space and provide locally grown food and economic development to the region.

After departing HVL continuing Post-Conference Study Tour stops included:

  • Porpiglia Fruit Farms, Marlboro -- packing line, storage, and plantings
  • Crist Bros. Coy Farm, Clintondale -- tall spindle apple plantings and hedging
  • Wrights Farm Market & Bakery, Gardiner -- gourmet box lunch, cider donuts
  • Dressel Farms, New Paltz -- modern storage and Cider Week, but no sampling, and we did not go look at one of the oldest tall spindle apple plantings in eastern new york :-(
  • Crist Bros. Home Farm, Walden -- brand new Greefa pre-sorting line
  • Fishkill Farms, Fishkill -- Eco Apples and year-round farm market (some crops organic)

After the day of orchard visits and a brief return to the hotel we had a brief ride to Locust Grove Estate and Samuel Morse Historic Site for an authentic Dutch-Colonial dinner hosted by Hudson Valley entertainers and cooks John and Cynthia Vergilii. It was really great and a fitting end to the Post-Conference Study Tour. Kudos to Steve Hoying and the Hudson Valley Young Growers for an informative and entertaining IFTA event no one will soon forget. Finally, on Saturday morning, back to Boston for travel home...

Of course I want to thank very much all the people who worked particularly hard and/or significantly contributed to make #ifta2013boston a success. They include: Mo Tougas, Phil Schwallier, and the IFTA Board of Directors; Tara Baugher for putting together the automation session; Rick, Glen, and Teresa who are IFTA's management team with AMR Management Services; Tim Welsh and Ken Hall for hosting the banquet program and cider auction; all our Pre-Conference Workshop and Conference speakers; all our Pre-, Post-, and Conference tour stop hosts; and Steve Hoying and the Hudson Valley Young Growers for arranging the Post-Conference Tour. 

For more of my pictures of #ifta2013boston see my Flicker album...