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Nov 6, 2012
Private/public partnerships help Quebec thrive

Unlike their counterparts in the United States, apple growers in Quebec, Canada, don’t have access to a university- or Extension-based research system. The province’s apple industry has found other ways to meet its research needs, however, by banding together and partnering with the provincial and federal governments.

Members of the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) visited several Quebec orchards in July, and saw examples of how public/private partnerships work in the Canadian province.

At the provincial level, there’s the Federation of Quebec Apple Growers, which represents Quebec’s more than 560 growers, regulating market conditions and promoting Quebec apples. At a more local level, there’s the club system.

At the orchard of Gerald and Paul Lussier in Rockburn, agronomist Nathalie Tanguay described how Quebec’s apple clubs work. There are eight such clubs in the province, each with 20 to 70 grower/members. Each club has its own executive board and is partially subsidized by provincial and federal governments. Clubs hire their own agronomists. The Lussiers are members of the club that hired Tanguay, she said.

The system allows producers to share the costs of agronomy services, such as scouting. In Quebec, agronomists like Tanguay are accredited professionals entitled to give agronomic recommendations to farmers. There also are government agronomists who share information with club agronomists like Tanguay, she said.

Tanguay visits each member’s farm once or twice a week, advising them on insect control, scouting, pruning, thinning, maturity, storage, fruit nutrition and other topics. Soil management recommendations are particularly important in Quebec, because there are strict regulations about how much fertilizer can be used on each farm. Each producer must have a plan, signed by an agronomist, that lays out the quantity of fertilizers to be used on the farm. The purpose is to avoid excessive amounts of fertilizer that could harm the environment, Tanguay said.

At the Lussier orchard, Tanguay has been targeting codling moth. For the last couple of years, they’ve been getting good control through newer chemistries and a mating disruption project, which was inspired by an IFTA tour in western New York state in 2010, she said.

The Lussier brothers grow about 75 acres of apples, including Honeycrisp and Cortland, Gerald said.

Gerald’s younger brother, Paul, started planting Honeycrisp in 2002. The first couple of years were unprofitable, but after observing high-density systems during an IFTA tour of Italy, he adapted those ideas to his Honeycrisp trees – and he hasn’t looked back since. They send their Honeycrisps to a packer in Ontario, which are shipped all over, Paul said.

Powdery mildew is a problem with the Honeycrisps, and mites are probably the top orchard problem in general. Spring frosts this year put a dent in overall yields, Paul said.

At the orchard block visited by IFTA, strong fences keep the deer out – a major problem. The trellis system that holds up the trees, anchored by wooden electrical poles, is built to withstand bad weather. They use a backhoe to install the poles, Paul said.

Research orchard

IFTA also visited a research orchard in Mont Saint-Bruno National Park, which is managed by the Research and Development Institute for the Agri-Environment (IRDA), a nonprofit with government ties. At the orchard, IRDA conducts experiments and handles the harvesting and marketing of the apples. The institute sells the apples to cover some of the research costs, said Vincent Philion, an IRDA pathologist.

The nearly 20-acre research orchard was established in 1929 by the Saint-Gabriel Brothers and was integrated into the park when it was created in 1985, according to IFTA.

The orchard has three parts, each with its own role: research and development; demonstrations; and the heritage area, which preserves old cultivars for the benefit of park visitors, according to IFTA.

The IFTA visitors observed an overhead spray trial, fire blight pruning trials and a weather station – one of 12 dedicated to the Quebec apple industry. Thanks to federal money, the province has modernized its weather network, though there are still a few older stations, said Paul Emile Yelle, an apple crop consultant based in Quebec.

The visitors also saw an Integrated Fruit Production (IFP) demonstration block. Quebec’s apple growers want to put IFP practices in place within a few years, so customers will know their apples are grown to a certain standard. IFP takes things a step further than Integrated Pest Management, which focuses solely on pest control, Yelle said.

IFP encompasses all aspects of production, including pest management but also orchard planning, land preparation, rootstock evaluation, planting, postharvest operations – it’s all about developing the most efficient system possible, Yelle said.

Quebec’s IFP program is being developed under the supervision of IRDA and the Federation of Quebec Apple Growers, with help from a team of researchers, advisers and apple industry representatives, according to IFTA.

Trials

At Vergers Paul Jodoin Inc. in St-Jean-Baptiste de Rouville, IFTA visited a block of cultivar and rootstock trials. Planted in 2002 and concluding in 2010, the trials were part of an evaluation project organized by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the federal department of agriculture. The goal was to compare various M.9 strains, as well as O.3 and O rootstock. Fifteen cultivars also were trialed, including Ginger Gold, Sweet Sixteen and Jonagold, according to IFTA.

Rootstocks and cultivars from all over the world are first studied at an experimental plot. Cultivars are tested for seven years; rootstocks for eight or nine. Test results are published yearly, said Monique Audette, an agronomist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

After the initial study, the most promising material is planted at grower sites such as Jodoin’s, she said.

The experimental plots enable researchers to test material, in order to make good recommendations to growers. Federal and provincial governments, Quebec apple growers and several private partners finance the project. It’s been in existence since 1995, Audette said.

Creating the research network 17 years ago required grower backing, which helped spur government funding and other assistance, Yelle said.

The research network is currently dealing with some funding troubles, however, Audette said.

“We’re hoping to continue the project,” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Francois Jodoin also led the IFTA visitors through some of his family orchards, the first of which were bought in 1901 by his great-grandfather. Francois and his brothers, Pierre and Sylvain, have owned the family business since 1987, when they took over for their father, Paul. They represent the fourth generation of Jodoins on the farm (the fifth generation also works on the farm), he said.

They grow a few plum and pear trees in a u-pick block, but the vast majority of their 600 acres are in apples. Half the apples are on standard trees, the other half dwarf, he said.

Francois showed the visitors a 5-acre block that was planted in 2007, featuring Cortland, Empire, Spartan, McIntosh and Honeycrisp on O.3, B.9 and M.26 rootstocks. Empires planted on M.26 get a good mix of vigor and growth in his area, he said.

“We grow apples only because we have no imagination,” he said with a grin, “and because apples grow better than anything else here.”

The Jodoins have about 30 employees working in the orchards, most of them from Guatemala.

“We have a few Canadians still,” he said, with another grin. “My two sons, my cousins …”

The family company also has cold storage and controlled atmosphere facilities, an electronic packaging and conditioning line and a processing plant for juice and other products. Their apples end up in either the fresh market or are turned into applesauce, cider and other processing products, according to IFTA.

By Matt Milkovich, Managing Editor





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