TRAVERSE CITY — Four young farmers from northwest Michigan were awarded scholarships in January from the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Foundation (NWMHRF) to attend the 2014 International Tree Fruit Association (IFTA) annual conference in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Each recipient received $1,000 to offset travel and registration expenses for the February meeting. This year’s award recipients were Chris Alpers from Alpers and Redpath Orchards, Leelanau County; Adele Wunsch from Wunsch Farms, Old Mission Peninsula; and Calvin Lutz II and III from Lutz Farms, Manistee County.
The scholarships were provided by two funding sources: NWMHRF’s “Keep our Farmers Farming” fundraising campaign and a donation to the NWMHRF from Cherry Republic. Both the NWMHRF board members and Bob Sutherland of Cherry Republic were pleased to see these funds used to expand the knowledge base of young farmers who will bring new ideas and concepts back to the region.
Established in 1958, IFTA is the leading international organization that advances the adoption of intensive orchard systems. IFTA encourages research and supports the dissemination of information on intensive tree fruit production.
The four scholarship recipients had the chance to attend the IFTA’s pre-conference fresh market sweet cherry workshop and pruning demonstration. Attendees of this pre-conference workshop toured high-density sweet cherry orchards in the Kelowna region. Unlike other high-density systems, where trees are typically grown on dwarfing rootstocks to maintain a smaller tree size, these high-density sweet cherry trees are grown on standard rootstocks (which typically produce large trees), but growers in Kelowna prune these orchards intensively to keep tree size small.
During the main conference, scholarship recipients attended educational sessions that covered topics on precision orchard management, caring for young fruit trees, fruit tree varieties, harvesting, and production challenges such as restrictions on water use in fruit growing regions of northwest United States and British Columbia. During the pre-conference tour, scholarship attendees saw many high-density cherry farms and the hundreds of acres of high-density apple trees in Washington’s Yakima valley region.
Young farmer and scholarship recipient Adele Wunsch encourages all those involved in the fruit tree industry to attend the IFTA meetings, especially young farmers.
“We need to encourage more young fruit farmers to attend IFTA because they will be the ones putting this information to use,” said Wunsch.
“Because of the NWMHRF scholarship, I was able to attend IFTA and bring new ideas back to our farm in Leelanau County,” Alpers said.