Thursday, March 7, 2019


Last week, February 25-28, 2018, 350 fruit tree growers, researchers, educators, and industry representatives got together in Rochester, NY for the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) Annual Conference. I can't begin to recount all that went on -- after all, there were two full days of Conference education sessions, and two full days or orchard tours -- but I will summarize some take-home messages here. Speaking of messaging, search #IFTA2019 on Twitter if you want MORE! Lots MORE! Over 300 Tweets to be exact!

George Kantor, CMU, Robert Carlson Lecture
Monday, February 25 - Day one of education program with an AM themed session "Who Moved My Trees?" and a PM session "Using New Rootstocks to Improve High Value Apple Production." Leading off the AM was George Kantor of Carnegie Melon University, who during the Robert Carlson Lecture talked about orchard sensing and automation. Interesting, dynamic speaker -- one screen sums it all up -- "AI (Artificial Intelligence) is coming: It will bring changes, you can start getting ready for it now, and you can help shape it." In the PM, although all the talks by scientists who are part of the SCRI funded Root2Fruit project were useful, I found Lailiang Cheng's of Cornell University talk on "Control of Honeycrisp Bitterpit: Use of Rootstocks and other Strategies" particularly interesting.

Lailiang Cheng summary screen on Honeycrisp bitterpit management
Tuesday, February 26 - Orchard tour west of Rochester to Orleans County. Six
 orchard stops. I will highlight three. Excelsior Farms with Roger Bannister. Multi-leader Pazazz trees that in 4th-leaf produced over 1,000 bushels per acre. Honeycrisp, on same system under-performed at about 600 bushels per acre. Challenges included time spent training and pruning, i.e. getting the multiple leaders uniform. But fruit quality is very high.

Roger Bannister w/ Cornell's Mario Mirando Sazo, Exclesior Farms, multi-leader Pazazz
Lamont Fruit Farm, Inc. with Jason Woodworth and Jose Iniguez. Super-spindle Honeycrisp, Gala, presumably a few other varieties. (SweeTango, Koru, Smitten club varieties included.) Mostly on B.9 rootstocks. Planted app. 2 feet by 11 feet. Very nice -- grow the tree up in the nursery (they have their own) and a year or two in the orchard, then stand back and enjoy growing uniform fruit of targeted sizes. According to them. But they made it look easy.

Jason Woodwoth and Jose Iniguez in super-spindle Gala/B.9 planting. Very nice.
Oh, and that is Bill Broderick on the left, Sunnycrest Orchard, Sterling, MA.
Kast Farms, Inc. Cornell-Geneva rootstock trial with Gennaro Fazio. Delicious as scion. Interesting, but not too many surprises here. I kind of spaced-out because not too interested in Delicious. (Only real interest is right rootstock for Honeycrisp!) CG. 2013 might be their next rootstock release? Did I mention yet it was cold and getting colder -- Gennaro's fur hat got compliments from back home.

Fur-hatted Gennaro Fazio with Cornell-Geneva rootstock planting at Kast Farms
Tuesday evening, IFTA Social Event 2019 (no Banquet, some seem to think it is getting dated) at Artisan Works in Rochester. Artisan Works was pretty mind-blowing spectacular! And the food and company was not too bad either...👍

Wednesday, February 27 - Another day of education inside. Plus a very special event in the evening. First, in the AM "Realizing the Potential." Including the Wallace Heuser Lecture by Nick Dokoozlian of EJ Gallo Winery. You know, what I got out of his talk is that the grape industry, particularly the big wine grape guys, are ahead of us. Way ahead? Maybe not, the big tree fruit growers are adopting new technologies and catching up and trying to match the wine grape industry's obsession with fruit quality and profitability.

Nick Dokoozlian, E&J Gallo Winery, this screen sums up his talk
I also particularly liked WSU's Bernardita Sallato's talk on "Orchard Nutrient Management and Diagnostics," and the "Advances in Tree Fruit Nursery Technologies: Panel Discussion" lead by Greg Lang. No pictures on that, but there was a diversity of nursery production methods espoused by Willow Drive Nursery, North American Plants, Sierra Gold Trees, and Helios Nursery. I liked the one-year bench grafts being produced by Willow Drive.

Bernardita Sallato walked us through a step-by-step nutrition diagnosis, here with soil test optima
Oh, and at the beginning of the AM session was a special tribute and moment of silence to Wally Heuser, founding father of IFTA, who passed away last month at the age of 90. Wally was a leader in getting the industry to plant dwarf apple trees. Memorial contributions to Wally can be made to the IFTA Research Endowment Fund with the announcement of a goal of $250,000 by this time next year when IFTA convenes in Michigan. Almost immediately just shy of $15,000 was raised by the end of the day!

In the PM session "Getting the Right Fruit in the Bin" yours truly talked about "On-Farm Research: Reduce Errors, Get Results" and Cornell's Craig Kahlke (Lake Ontario Fruit Program ) spoke on "The Best Tools for the Job - Measuring Maturity in High Value Apple Varieties." Otherwise, IFTA Business Meeting wherein Lisa Jenereaux (Spurr Brothers Farm LTD, Nova Scotia) and Jeff Cleveringa (Starr Ranch, WA) were elected IFTA Board Chair and Vice-Chair respectively. (You now know where to send complaints!) Plus a "People and Machines to Harvest Apples Panel Discussion" and a nice education sessions wrap-up "Take Home Messages -- Young Professional Panel Discussion" lead by Jen Baugher of Adams County Nursery. Don't forget IFTA is going to Ontario for a Summer Tour (July 21-24, 2019) and the Annual Conference is returning to Grand Rapids, Michigan the week of February 9, 2020.

Thanks Fruit Growers News for the Tweet!

Interesting facts on Titratable Acidity for Honeycrisp, by Cornell's Craig Kalhke
Now for that very special event on Wednesday Evening, the Women's Network Dinner. Mostly because Chelcie Martin, Honey Pot Hill Orchard, Stow, MA and Elly Vaughan, Phoenix Fruit Farm, Belchertown, MA, who were home-state recipients of a scholarship sponsored by the IFTA Women's Network. Both gave five minute stand-up routines during the celebration, and I got to say, they would have made The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel proud! The third recipient, I believe, was Diane Kearns, Fruit Hill Orchard, Winchester, VA.

Chelcie Martin and Elly Vaughan at IFTA Women's Network Dinner
On to last day, Thursday, February 28 - Orchard tours to Wayne County, biggest apple producing County in New York, east of Rochester. AM stops, Fowler Farms and Wafler Farms. All I can say is WOW, especially Fowler Farms who pioneered super-spindle in New York many years ago. Words don't do justice to the panorama of gently sloping hills, almost as far as the eye can see, of young super-spindle orchard. Honeycrisp, SweeTango, Gala, and more recently Evercrisp on M.9 and B.9 rootstocks. Fowlers are vertically integrated and their excellence in apple growing is almost legendary. I particularly liked their use of black locust support system posts, which they have their own sawmill and even grow their own locust to make their posts all on-site. I can't help but think if I was going to do an organic apple orchard in the East, it would look a lot like Fowler's. At Fowler's we also listened to Cornell's Terence Robinson on Helena's proprietary HyGround soil sampling program that "gives detailed information on soil variability and can help target pinpoint areas for nutrient recommendations." Less to say about Wafler's, although their camera-on-platform to monitor orchard field workers was certainly interesting, but a little intimidating and big-brotherish -- who has time to watch all that recorded video? Only Paul Wafler! He claims it's not to punish/reprimand employees, but to help them be better and more efficient workers. Point taken. And out in the orchard, Kyle Wafler talked about logistics of the Tall-Spindle-Tip (Wafler System). The System, along with their self-designed work/harvest orchard platforms -- don't forget, with video camera!!! -- helps keep the flow moving and achieve high apple yields and quality while reducing costs.

Wafler Farms wall-to-wall super-spindle. I particularly liked the black locust posts
and low tree height. Think organic...

Cornell's Terence Robinson talks about variable rate fertilizer application benefits.
Helena's HyGround soil sampling technology. Think precision orcharding...

Kyle Wafler, Wafler Farms, talks Tall-Spindle-Tip (aka Wafler System)
Ben and Tom Clark at Wafler Farms. The orange cone is attached to
Wafler''s harvest platform and is where non-perfect fruit ends up
while being harvested.
In the afternoon, and it did not seem to be getting much warmer, but we visited VanDeWalle Farm, LLC and Cherry Lawn Farms, LLC. At VanDeWalle, the discussion centered around production of high-quality fresh-market apples -- including the new club varieties Sweet Cheeks, SweeTango, and Evercrisp -- using tall-spindle/fruiting wall systems. At Cherry Lawn an intended demo of Drape Net over high-value club varieties went awry (the net had to be removed before our visit) because of record-high winds a few days prior. Humph?

Todd and Ted (or is it Ted and Todd?) Furber, Cherrry Lawn Farms, LLC.
Note the bent-over tree tops where Drape Net was used last growing season.
There was a lot packed into four days of the IFTA Conference in western New York. There are parallels to what everyone is doing out there, from Nova Scotia, to New York, to Ontario, to Michigan, to Washington, to British Coumbia. All places IFTA has held a Conference or Tour recently (Ontario upcoming). Details are in regional, often minor differences and priorities, but standardization on the basics -- tall/super spindle/hi-density with high light utilization, fruiting wall, orchard platforms/mechanization, adopting technology, labor efficiencies, and new varieties -- are common themes to successful apple production across all regions as we move into the 2020's. And finally thanks to all the attendees, speakers, IFTA Directors, Management, Conference Planning Committee, Cornell Extension/Lake Ontario Fruit Team, and all our local hosts. A lot of bang for the buck! And I shout out to Massachusetts tree fruit growers who went and learned at the IFTA Conference -- Mo and Andre Tougas, Tougas Family Farm; Courtney Basil and Tim Smith, Apex Orchards; Chris Smith, C.N. Smith Farm; Ben and Tom Clark, Clarkdale Fruit Farms; Chelcie Martin, Honey Pot Hill Orchard; Elly Vaughan, Phoenix Fruit Farm; and Bill Broderick, Sunny Crest Orchards. 

Cheers at the Hyatt Downtown Hotel bar after a long 5 days...
Been a long time since I had a Genny!