Tuesday, August 11, 2015

IFTA Study Tour 2015 to Washington

July 15-17, 2015. International Fruit Tree Association Study Tour to Washington (USA)

Along with app. 140 other lucky IFTA members, I had the good fortune to attend the IFTA Study Tour to Washington July 15-17, 2015 which visited orchards in the Columbia Basin area of southern Washington state, USA. Take-home messages for me were several:
  • Water, although perceived by us here in the East to be a problem out there in the west, is not really a problem for most apple growers in Washington. A massive federal reclamation project which dams the Columbia River (although salmon be-damned!) and provides a series of canals and reservoirs means there is plenty of water in the Columbia Basin. Much overhead irrigation of corn, wheat, and other field crops was seen. Trickle, overhead, and cooling water was used in orchards. I believe there was some water restriction on orchards farthest removed from the water source, but that did not seem to be a big deal. That remains to be seen with time I suppose. It should be noted there is virtually no snowpack in the U.S. mountains out there, and the spigot originates in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, so there was some talk about Canada perhaps trying to gain some advantage for supplying all this water to the U.S. I suspect California would like to tap into some of that water too?
  • Honeycrisp, like water, is perceived by us East coast apple growers to be a problem in Washington too. "Poor quality, poor flavor, shouldn't be growing them out there!" Maybe, but what I saw looked pretty darn good -- fruits on the trees looked good, trees looked healthy, and growers are serious about producing quality Honeycrisp and lots of them. Sure, I saw some sunburn, but foliage was dark green and healthy and the fruits were clean and very Honeycrisp-like. You would not have known it wasn't a tree in the east or mid-west (or Nova Scotia even). And I repeat, the growers we visited were very serious about producing top-quality Honeycrisp fruit. I was impressed and won't likely 'diss,' and in fact probably defend, their ability to grow good Honeycrisp out there. Did I mention overhead cooling is a necessity with this fruit though.
  • Apple yields, all the talk was 100, 22 bushel bins per acre being the new standard (or at least the achievable goal). 2,200 bushels per acre! Wasn't it all that long ago that 1,200 to 1,500 bushels per acre was considered pretty magical? (Still pretty magical here on the East coast.) To get this yield, angled V-canopies were prevalent. (Maximum light interception = maximum yield.) A side-effect of using V-canopy support systems, however, was the need to re-assess support system construction methods because 2,000 bushels per acre = 40 tons of fruit per acre to hold up. It was noted some support systems were failing under this fruit load, hence the need to analyze and re-construct our notions about what an adequate support system should look like. Note that we did see some vertical canopies, super-spindle and tall-spindle, although they did not call it tall-spindle out there, what did they call it, I can't remember? These vertical canopies do lend themselves to mechanization better, however, than the angled canopies. Despite the allure of high yields, after looking at lots of angled canopy systems (lots, trust me!), I don't feel the need to bring that system back east. Unless I want to grow 2,000 bushels per acre, hmmm....
  • Labor, some discussion, most notable, when cherry harvest starts, there is little labor left to do apple orchard work like hand thinning. Hand thinning was ongoing while we were visiting, some orchards had not been hand thinned. This is late. Offshore H2A labor seems to be an increasing option to supplement the more traditional local and seasonal Hispanic labor.
  • The apple crop will be big again out there this year, perhaps not as big as last year's record-breaker, but still big. There did not seem to be too much concern about this, especially if growing managed varieties and/or Honeycrisp. The legacy varieties are in trouble, although Washington State University Extension's Karen Lewis thinks we still need a "value" apple at 99 cents per pound that is more affordable than the club varieties at $4 per pound which are out of the reach of a lot of people. So, stay tuned to see if over-production truly becomes a problem or will we as an industry figure that out?
OK, those are my major observations. What follows are a picture or two (or more) from each tour stop and a brief description. (If you want to see all my best pictures, they are here on Flickr.) If any questions, or comment, please feel free to post. And of course, thanks to IFTA and all the local hosts and tour coordinators and sponsors for their hard work and hospitality. Everyone seems to be busier than ever, so it is a real accomplishment of great value by IFTA to be able to continue to offer these education and networking tours to beautiful scenery and friendly, knowledgeable growers and industry people!

Day 1, Wednesday, July 15

Click here for Day 1 map of where we were; may not include all stops, GPS/Verizon may not have been all there!

Stop 1 - Stemilt Ag Services, Saddle Mountain West, Othello, WA. Dale Goldy and Robin Graham were our hosts. Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Cripps Pink were featured, planted 4 X 12, tall-spindle. Noted use of Surround to prevent sunburn and on transitional organic (2015) plantings. Nice looking tall-spindle Honeycrisp with 60 bins per acre (3rd crop) and 40 bins per acre (1st crop) orchards.
Stop 1 IFTA Washington tour, Stemilt Ag Services

Nice looking organic (I believe, I am sure there were some) Honeycrisp

Stop 2 - Yakima Valley Orchards, Basin City, WA. Dave and Travis Allen our hosts. First, a modest angled system planted in 2013, Buckeye Gala, first crop year, 30 to 40 bins per acre expected. And, as explained by Dave Allan, an experimental pedestrian Buckeye Gala orchard. One acre block planted in 2010 produced 100 bins per acre. Allan says ability to manage from ground (labor efficiency) might trump high yield efficiency, but verdict is still out.
Angled orchard systems were commonplace in the Columbia Basin; here, Buckeye Gala planted in 2013

Dave Allen touts the virtues of an experimental pedestrian orchard. "It may be our future" he says....

Stop 3 - Hi-Point Orchard, Basin City, WA. Rick Orozco our host. Angled-V, BC2 Fuji planted in 1992 on M.7A rootstock, but grafted to Aztec Fuji in 2009 and 2011. BC2 peaked at 98 bins per acre, Aztec Fuji (pictured below) in 2014 produced 50 bins per acre. And, nice looking 6 X 18 ft. perpendicular-V peach on this excellent stone fruit site.
Angled orchard top-worked to Aztec Fuji produced 50 bins/acre in 2014

Hi-Point Orchard was a real nice peach site; here, either 'Sierra Rich' or 'August Brite' wait to be harvested

Stop 4 - Cameron Nursery, Eltopia, WA. Todd Cameron our host at this family owned (Allison and Eric Cameron) fruit tree nursery that specializes in finished 1- and 2-year old (knip-boom) nursery trees, bench grafts, and sleeping eyes. Todd Cameron is truly outstanding in his field in producing uniformed, modestly branched finished apple trees. Cameron and other nurseries are trying to ramp up production of Geneva rootstocks, of which they currently have 20 acres out of a total of 40 acres of layerbed. Geneva rootstocks are in-demand because of selection of dwarfing and semi-dwarfing characteristics, and fire blight and re-plant disease resistance. Click here for handout.
Todd Cameron 'outstanding' in a field of apple nursery trees already pre-sold for 2016

Geneva 11 rootstock layer bed

Day 2, Thursday, July 16

Click here for Day 2 map of where we were; may not include all stops, GPS/Verizon may not have been all there!

Stop 1 - Doornink Fruit Ranch, near Yakima, WA. Jim and Phil Doornink our hosts. Gala block planted in 2014 on G.935, 3 X 12 ft. spacing, training with up to two leaders for 2,420 leaders per acre. Phil demonstrates snapping of vigorous branches and "letting them hang" to reduce vigor. And, 2009 planting of Gala on M.9-337, 1.5 X 14 ft. spacing. Produced 79 bins per acre in 2014 according to Jim. Nice angled-V wall of fruit, meticulously managed with pruning to desired bud count.
Gala/G.935 planted 3 X 12 ft. and grown to 2 leaders in an angled system

Phil Doornink demonstrates bending and snapping of vigorous shoots and leaving them hang (promotes ethylene stress) to reduce vigor

Gorgeous mature Gala (planted 2009) angled system at Doornink Fruit Ranch --
but, have we seen enough angled systems yet?

Stop 2 - Chiawana Orchard, Yakima, WA. Host Bruce Allen. Honeycrisp the theme of this stop. Bruce is regarded as one of the best Honeycrisp growers in the region, and he stressed the need to grow quality Honeycrisp with good flavor or else "we'll screw up the market." This 1,200 ft. elevation orchard has a lot of good looking Honeycrisp with overhead cooling and reflective fabric to improve red color. Well, maybe they need a little more hand-thinning? But thinning starts at bloom with fish oil and lime sulfur. This is when I decided they can grow OK Honeycrisp!
IFTA members in a block of Honeycrisp, grown to - you guessed it! - an angled System at Chiawana Orchard

Nice Honeycrisp at Chiawana Orchard - do these need some hand thinning?

Extenday® reflective fabric in a Honeycrisp block at Chiawana Orchard

Stop 3 - Matson Fruit Company, Selah, WA. Several stops here with host and manager Jason Matson, below pictured in a last-to-be-picked Sweetheart cherry orchard. (We enjoyed eating the cherries, but the angled support and pruning/training system came under considerable scrutiny.) Also visited mature Honeycrisp blocks, including top-worked in 2010 V-system with 4 leaders per stump, and vertical trellis planted in 2008 with single leader per tree. And a young angled trellis of Honeycrisp planted in 2014 which was cut-back in the last year to two leaders per tree. Much discussion ensued here, with Stephano Musacchi and Karen Lewis from MSU.

Sweetheart cherries, Jason Matson
Matson grafted Honeycrisp with 4 leaders, 82 bins/acre in 2014
2008 replant Honeycrisp, 62 bins per acre in 2014
2014 Honeycrisp V-system with 2 leaders
WSU's Musacchi and Lewis in discussion with Matson

Day 3 - Friday, July 17

Click here for Day 3 map of where we were; may not include all stops, GPS/Verizon may not have been all there!

Stop 1 - McDougall and Sons, Whispering Rocks Orchard, Mattawa, WA. Hosts Brent Milne and Dr. Stefano Musacchi. WSU mechanical thinning trial the highlight with the objective to reduce labor cost while maintaining (increasing?) productivity. Cripps Pink/M.9-337 planted in 2013, 3 X 12 ft. trained to a vertical spindle. (I think that is what they call tall-spindle.) Produced 37 bins per acre in 3rd-leaf (2014).
Dr. Stefano Musacchi mechanical thinning trial
Fruit bud initiation effect of early summer hedging
4th-leaf Cripps Pink grown to vertical spindle, 37 bins/A in 3rd-leaf
Stop 2 - Valley Fruit Company, Royal 1 Orchard. Scott Jacky and Bill McCombs were our hosts, where WSU's Karen Lewis lead a discussion on support system strengths and weaknesses. Here, Karen Lewis with Bill McCombs have this discussion in a newly constructed, impressive (and expensive!) support system. It replaces the weaker, T-post system pictured. (I am not sure what they were thinking when they built that one?)
WSU Karen Lewis and Bill McCombs discuss the need for improved support systems to carry 100 bins per acre of apples

Inadequate T-post support system at Valley Fruit Company, now looking to beef-up their support systems

Stop 3 - Winchester Orchard, Quincy, WA. Enjoying lunch and pie -- purported to be the best in Washington, it was good -- and an equipment show featured Automated Ag Systems Bandit XPress and Bin Bandit platforms, as well as platforms, sprayers, and hedgers from other vendors. Thanks to Karen Lewis for arranging this. Then we visited with Tim Welsh of Columbia Fruit Packers and IFTA President who showed us tall-spindle plantings of Brookfield Gala and Kanzi®, their new managed variety Nicoter cv. 63 acres are transitioning to organic and a comparison of single vs. two leader trees was made: 66 bins/A for the single leader, 59 bins/A for the 2-leader in year 3 of yield. Tim made the point he expects the 2-leader trees to overcome the single-leader trees this year or next, but the verdict is still out whether he would do it again.

Karen Lewis hosts equipment show featuring Automated Ag Systems
Columbia Fruit Packers and IFTA President Tim Welsh
Single leader Nicoter cv. (Kanzi® brand)
Double leader apple trees at Winchester Orchard
Still hand thinning (damn cherry harvest!) apple trees with platform
Stop 4 - McDougall and Sons, Prospector Orchard, Quincy, WA. Hosted by Scott McDougall and Dr. Lee Kalcsits from WSU. Kalcsits discussed their photoselective netting research to prevent sunburn and improve fruit quality in this young Honeycrisp orchard. (Note that the crop was removed to improve growth in this 3rd-leaf except under the netting experiment.) The netting filters light by up to 20%, but that does not seem to effect photosynthesis and productivity, while the shading reduced temperature, sunburn and improves fruit condition significantly. McDougall showed us a 2 X 12 ft. steep V system planted to Cameron Select® Honeycrisp on G.11, G.41, G.935, Bud.9, and M.9 rootstocks with under-tree micro irrigation and overhead cooling.
Sunburn developing on Honeycrisp apple

WSU photo-selective netting for apple experiment

Cameron Select® Honeycrisp rootstock comparions

An IFTA tradition, President Tim Welsh thanks Scott McDougall for allowing us to visit their orchard and sharing their experience