Paul Umlor

Paul Umlor

Orchard ‘family’ comes together

Delegates from 15 countries attended the International Fruit Tree Association conference

The farming fraternity has deep roots.

Delegates from 15 countries attended the International Fruit Tree Association conference in Kelowna, and it included farm tours in Oyama, Coldstream and Vernon.

Whether they are from the Okanagan, Israel, the U.S., Chile, Australia or Brazil, none of them are considered competition.

“You face the same issues, the same difficulties and the same successes,” said Philip Schwallier, IFTA president and a horticulture marketing agent with Michigan State University.

“You have to prune, you have to fertilize and you have to harvest. We have a common purpose. We’re all family.”

And just like family, growers were exchanging information they can take back to their own orchards.

“We come here to learn,” said Howard Hansen, who has 300 acres of cherries and 170 acres of apples in Tasmania, Australia.

“We get to learn from a lot of the best people in the world.”

During the conference, speakers took to the podium on a variety of topics, including bacterial cankers in cherries, what is the best orchard system to grow apples, tree nutrition, pear root stock and growing export quality cherries.

But much of the education came over coffee or at lunch as the growers chatted one-on-one.

“They share their insight and practices,” said Charlotte Leaming, a field person with B.C. Tree Fruits in Penticton.

Coldstream’s Jamie Kidston has been attending IFTA conferences since the early 1980s.

“You find out what varieties people are planting and the harvesting equipment people are using,” he said.

During the visit to Vernon Tuesday, delegates made a stop at Davison Orchards, which has become a destination for locals and tourists.

“I want to get more people to the farm,” said Tamra Davison, of why her family focuses on special events, an array of merchandise and family-friendly activities.

Marketing is also key at Davison Orchards, whether it’s traditional advertising, the website, Facebook or Twitter.

But Davison told delegates that the most effective form of marketing is still word-of-mouth.

“Nothing replaces a real face and a real smile when people come to the farm,” she said.

Much of Davison Orchard’s focus is expanding the opportunities that come from growing fruits and vegetables, whether it’s baking 20,000 pies a year or producing jams and salsa during the off-season.

Gallons of apple juice are also made every year.

“We add value to the crops we’re growing,” said Kevin Shaw, a member of the Davison family.

As he walked through a block of trees, Paul Umlor, of Conklin, Michigan, was impressed with the state of the Okanagan’s tree fruit industry.

“It’s more progressive and forward-thinking with innovation and adjusting to new technology,” he said.

He also took notes about Davison Orchards’ marketing plan, as marketing is also critical to the future of his 600 acres of sweet cherries and apples.

“We have a lot of collaboration with our customers and trying to educate them,” said Umlor.

For Schwallier, it made sense for the IFTA to hold its conference in the Okanagan Valley.

“The Okanagan is the leader in super-spindle trees and it grows the best cherries I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“The B.C. industry has faced cost pressures for a lot longer and they have learned to do things right.”