Innovation and Conservation through Knowledge Sharing- IFTA
Posted: August 7, 2012
Young growers, Tyler Fetters and Ben Lerew, attended the IFTA Quebec tour along with other Pennsylvania growers. The two were sponsored by American Fruit Grower magazine to learn about the differences in fruit production in Quebec and Adams County.
Ongoing education and the promotion of research have evolved growing practices to produce more yields while decreasing the impact on land. Institutions, such as Penn State, have been at the forefront of this with research on pest mating disruption, disease modeling and planting systems with increased efficiencies.
As we celebrate 150 years of improvements in agriculture, Penn State Extension will be welcoming the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) to a tour of Adams County orchards in July 2013. IFTA has members on six continents and hosts summer and winter tours worldwide to increase knowledge and understanding of high density, intensive orchard systems. Two weeks ago, local Adams County producers and Extension workers (including myself) joined other IFTA members at the 2012 summer tour in Quebec, Canada.
Quebec is home to five apple producing regions, 550 growers and $24.5 million revenue in apples alone, about half of Adams County’s production. Tour attendees ranged from young and old producers with generations of expertise to individuals with no experience in growing. University personnel, pest management specialists, equipment dealers, journalists and the Ministry of Agriculture joined producers in sharing knowledge and experiences over a two day tour of apple orchards, a processing facility and cold storages to further understand growing practices, new research and value added products in the Quebec market.
While the basic principles of apple production are the same in every country, factors such as pests, fruit varieties, weather and terrain make each country unique.
The Research and Development Institute for the Agri-Environment (IRDA) is a national park orchard that was converted into a research station with historical preservation of fruit trees. IRDA is promoting the use of Integrated Fruit Production, a system where production practices from planting to post-harvest are environmentally and citizen friendly, ensuring high product quality and a sustainable ag enterprise. The research orchard is testing a fixed sprinkler system that would ideally replace growers having to ride through orchards to spray. Inspired by a Netherlands system, the fixed sprinklers are also being tested in Washington State which is looking at a three tier system that could cover trees more effectively in applying pesticides, thinners and possibly aid in frost protection.
With the much colder weather in Quebec, apple varieties and rootstocks must be more winter hardy than those grown in Pennsylvania. However growers have taken advantage of the colder climate to produce not only hard cider, but iced hard cider. Fruit is picked after three nights at negative 15 degrees, pressed, distilled and bottled. IFTA members toured the Cidrerie Du Minot in Hemmingford, Quebec which bottles 200,000 bottles per year. While certain frost nights at harvest are beneficial, spring frosts often ruin crops—as we have seen this year in America. At the Cidrerie Du Minot, a grower built a frost machine based on the Uruguayan inverted sink model. This machine works at minimal fuel, low noise and cost to move 100,000 cubic feet of air per minute. While it is still being tested, the machine has the capacity to protect one to seven acres of orchard land.
Many fruit producers are also involved in producing Canadian maple syrup. Stevenson Orchards has 4,500 taps and bottles approximately 1,200 gallons. Each year a new hole is drilled into trees, with multiple holes depending on tree size. In the last week of February for about one and a half months maple sap is harvested, although the process and capacity are 100 percent weather dependent. Sap is mixed with water depending on sugar content desired and boiled multiple times in what producers refer to as the sugar shack.
Along with value added products a variety of machinery was displayed through the tour. A multi-purpose Dutch work platform was used by two growers to assist in harvesting, pruning and fruit thinning. With a tier system, employees do not have to use ladders to reach fruit, saving time and energy throughout the day. The platform costs $40,000 - $60,000, depending on added gear such as mechanized pruners. Producers were very happy saying it improved the quality of their fruit, kept employees energized throughout the day and allowed them to work faster; one producer said that he runs it more than his tractor. With automated steering and 4WD, it seems valuable for any orchard, although Adams County producers on the tour were unsure of how it would work on the hilly terrain that most local producers deal with here.
Soil management is also critical, especially when preparing land for planting. Depending on the terrain or location of the orchard, soils in Quebec were mostly gravelly sand. Most producers spend three to four years spreading manure and tilling to prepare for planting while other producers said they would work their soil as little as possible, with the amount of topsoil or rocks making all the difference.
While Adams County producers have the resources of Penn State Extension, Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Services to name a few, Quebec producers have a support system of private clubs. Each club has 20 to 70 producers and a few horticultural advisors that visit each farm once or twice a week to give recommendations, scout for pests, conduct maturity tests, manage fruit and soil nutrition and provide assistance with mandatory fertilizer plans.
Producers in Quebec are currently facing a big problem with fire blight and codling moth, for which mating disruption can be a large asset. A horticultural advisor mentioned that the 2010 IFTA tour inspired her to recommend mating disruption to orchard owners.
Tours such as this allow a huge amount of information to be passed among producers, researchers and industry stakeholders—who are all part of making agriculture more productive at less cost to the environment. At next year’s Adams County Summer Tour, producers will be able to see machinery operating at difficult terrains, learn from research conducted at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center (FREC) in Biglerville and learn from the experiences of successful Adams County fruit growers.
The Adams County Fruit Belt makes Pennsylvania the 4th largest apple producer in the country and with additions such as the Wine and Fruit Trail agricultural tourism could evolve as another major income for the county. So next year, when the commotion of the re-enactment is over and all the bikers have left keep your eyes open for fruit producers from all over the world coming to see Adams County.