Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 27, 2013

Ag Forum: Young growers go international

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Six young growers from northwest Michigan attended the International Tree Fruit Association conference last month in Boston, Mass.

The Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Foundation provided six scholarships of $1,000 each per participant to help these growers attend this important educational conference. The scholarships were provided through two sources of funding: NWMHRF’s Keep our Farmers Farming fundraising campaign, and a generous donation to the NWMHRF from Cherry Republic.

Both the Foundation Board and Bob Sutherland of Cherry Republic were pleased to see these funds used to expand the knowledge base of new farmers so new ideas and concepts can be brought back to the region. And this IFTA conference was certainly not short on innovation.

IFTA was established in 1958 and is the leading international organization that advances the adoption of intensive orchard systems. It was designed to promote understanding of the nature and use of Intensive Orchard Systems through dissemination of information and to expand the knowledge in this industry by encouraging continued research efforts.

The organization conducts an annual educational conference and publishes the conference proceedings and additional articles in the Compact Fruit Tree journal. IFTA also holds an annual orchard/short tour during the summer and sponsors other tree fruit study tours. Lastly, this group provides funding support for research projects through a newly established research fund.

The mission to be the leading organization to promote new orchard systems may sound like a big goal, and from the rigorous schedule in Boston, the efforts of IFTA did not go unnoticed. The meeting began on a Saturday with a pre-conference intensive workshop that addressed strategies for improving production practices, which included flowering, pollination, modeling and fruit set. On Sunday, participants hopped on a bus for a half-day sweet cherry and peach pruning workshop.

The official conference began Monday morning and was attended by more than 350 participants. On Tuesday, the group toured high-density apple and sweet cherry orchards throughout eastern Massachusetts, including the oldest continuously operating farm in the country. The conference convened again on Wednesday for a full day, followed by a three-day tour of fruit-growing operations in the Hudson Valley, N.Y.

The participating young growers benefited from this IFTA conference.

“Without this scholarship, I would not have had the opportunity to attend IFTA,” said Stacie Nelson, who works for Crop Protection Services. “I have already taken a few things I learned and applied them while out in the field this spring.”

Mark Miezio at Cherry Bay Orchards said the scholarships were crucial in helping some of the younger farmers attend the conference.

“In return for the financial support, the scholarship winners attended a needs assessment held at the research station,” Miezio said. “We are using some of the ideas learned at IFTA to help develop a plan for future research and educational programs at the Northwest Station.”

The Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Foundation continues to support the educational efforts of commercial fruit growers throughout the Grand Traverse Region, and the scholarships are another way to give back to the agricultural community. The Foundation Board and Bob Sutherland are working together to find a way to continue to support these educational scholarships for new members of this important sector of our economy.

Nikki Rothwell is a Michigan State University Extension district horticulturalist and coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station.