Western innovator: Researcher helps fruit industry grow
Persimmon, quince and other alternative fruit crops find a home in Idaho
By SEAN ELLIS
PARMA, Idaho -- Fruit industry leaders say University of Idaho professor Essie Fallahi is a world-class researcher whose innovative techniques have greatly benefited Idaho growers.
During his 24 years as leader of UI's pomology program at the Parma research station, Fallahi and his research team have researched hundreds of new fruit varieties, created cutting edge production methods tailored to Idaho growers and experimented with super-high-density apple orchards that could pave the way for orchard mechanization.
"Dr. Fallahi is a tremendous asset to our industry," said Kelly Henggeler, general manager and co-owner of Henggeler Packing Co. in Fruitland.
Many of the fruit types Henggeler is shipping today were first researched at the Parma station years ago. Each year the company plants about 30 acres of new varieties that were researched at the station.
Born and raised in Iran, Fallahi, 61, was born into a family that farmed mostly orchards. His name in Persian means "horticulturalist." After earning a bachelor's degree in horticulture in Iran, he received his master's degree from Washington State University and a doctorate from Oregon State University.
Since arriving at UI, he has concentrated his work on developing growing techniques for Idaho's main fruits -- apples, peaches, plums and cherries -- that can help growers be profitable.
Much of his work has concentrated on "spoon feeding" fruit trees just the right amount of water and nutrients they need, and he has experimented with several different types of watering methods such as microsprinklers and buried and above-ground drip tape.
"By using excess water and nutrients, we are contaminating groundwater, we are destroying fruit color and we are paying more money," he said. "That's why we need to have precise amounts of water and nutrients."
He has also studied the use of growth regulators to create better quality fruit.
Shortly after his arrival, he began introducing new fruit to the area, much of it from his home country. The somewhat mountainous area of northern Iran where Fallahi is from has a climate similar to Idaho's main fruit growing regions.
"I found a lot of similarities between my family farm and here as far as climate so I figured that this fruit should be able to make it here also," he said.
He has introduced more than 100 different alternative fruit varieties to Idaho, including walnuts, haskap, persimmons, Asian pears, pomegranates, quince and mulberries.
"Now we have commercial growers that have started growing persimmons and quince," he said.
Fallahi also introduced more than 100 types of table grape varieties to Idaho when there was no table grape industry here and the research UI has done in this area has led to more than 1,000 acres of table grapes being planted in the state.
"I see such a huge potential for fruit production in Idaho," he said. "Considering the potential we have in Idaho for fruit production, I believe we are only on the tip of the iceberg."
Title: Director of University of Idaho's pomology program
Family: Wife, Bahar Fallahi, a son and a daughter
A collection of 2011's Western innovators is available on Amazon's Kindle. Take a look at "Western Innovators: Profiles of 42 agricultural leaders who shaped the West in 2011" at www.amazon.com/Western-Innovators-Profiles-agricultural-ebook/dp/B009NMO76O