By Sean Ellis
PARMA, Idaho — Most of the nation’s top fruit researchers are in Idaho this week trying to help one another figure out the best ways to grow tree fruit in their respective states.
The rootstock evaluation group, which includes 35 states, is a national research project funded by individual states and the USDA. Members meet in a different state each November to discuss results of rootstock trials of apples, cherries, pears, peaches and plums.
“The interchange of knowledge that we get to have at this conference, you don’t get from reading a book always,” said Win Cowgill, a fruit researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “This is the brain trust of the top scientists that work with tree fruit in the country.”
About 25 states were represented during this year’s conference, which took place Nov. 6-7 and centered around University of Idaho’s fruit orchard trials in Parma.
“This is an extremely important conference because we can compare how a given variety is performing in Idaho vs. other places … and select the best and most suitable rootstock for Idaho,” said UI researcher Essie Fallahi, who heads the university’s pomology program.
“The group collectively has a huge volume of knowledge and we can learn a lot from them and they can learn from us,” he added.
Many of the same rootstock trials being conducted in Idaho are being conducted in the other states.
During the conference, members compared notes from the different trials in various states, discussed the top performing rootstocks and growing methods and looked at ways to overcome growing challenges.
During a tour of UI’s super-high-density apple orchard trials Nov. 6, members of the group gave Fallahi and his staff advice on pruning and cropping.
“This group is trying to come up with better ways for growers to produce apples in each one of our states,” said Terence Robinson, professor of horticulture at Cornell University in New York. “One of these rootstocks might be the whole future of the Idaho industry.”
The Parma apple trials include a tall spindle system with as many as 1,100 trees per acre. A more detailed trial that grows trees in a V-shaped system is experimenting with nearly 2,400 trees per acre.
The apple trials are meant to pave the way for mechanization of the apple industry.
Joining the group was Chad Henggeler, manager of Henggeler Orchards, one of Idaho’s largest apple producers.
Henggeler has adopted some of the apple growing methods developed by Robinson and Fallahi and he was interested in seeing what new advice Robinson and other group members could offer Idaho.
“About 67 percent of apple production costs are from labor … and I think this is a great labor-saving method of growing fruit trees,” he said about the UI apple trials. “We’re trying to modernize our orchards in Idaho and we want to learn about these new methods from this group.”