Feb 28, 2019
Equipment modifications, trials featured in IFTA tour

New equipment – everything from a harvest surveillance system to netting to protect from hail – were featured in a tour on the final day of the International Fruit Tree Association’s (IFTA) annual conference Feb. 28.

The tour took place in Wayne County, New York. A tour earlier in the week visited farms in Orleans and Monroe County east of Rochester.

Here are some of the growers who hosted the tour:

Wafler Farms

Kyle Wafler and sales assistant Carrie Herzog spoke about equipment used on the field. The farm has a customized sprayer for foliar applications, which sprays the leaves at intersecting angles – Kyle said his father’s design was meant to “paint” the leaves thoroughly, similar to how a body shop would paint a car.

Indoors, Paul Wafler demonstrated a video and software system used to track the pickers’ performance. Cameras on each trailer track unloading bins, lunch breaks and other interruptions in the picking process. The harvest crew later watches some of the playback, and Wafler will use the time to critique their performance and encourage them.

Fowler Farms

Fowler Farms was started in 1858, and although the tour guides said it was the largest apple farm in Washington State, the exact number of apples in the orchard were not listed in tour brochure.

J.D. Fowler told tour attendees that it is a vertically integrated company with a nursery, packing house, and logistics branch, “So we can control our own destiny.” They also fabricate their own equipment

J.D. said harvest was his favorite time of year. Super-spindle plantings are short enough so that growers can reach them with a step ladder. Pickers are paid by the bucket.

“It’s very organized. Our harvest is the best part,” he said. “I love harvest, because you’re doing one thing, and it’s very calm.”

Also at Fowler Farms, Cornell University’s Terrence Robinson gave a presentation about how a field’s nutrient problem had been diagnosed and corrected.

Cherry Lawn Fruit Farms

Cherry Lawn Fruit Farms is a fifth-generation farm. Brothers Todd and Ted Furber grow 275 acres of apples, 20 of freestone peaches, and five of tart cherries.

Cherry Lawn Farms was recently the site of trials for two different equipment trials: reflective cloth that covers the row middle in order to help with reddening the apples (brand name mentioned: Extenday), and hail netting (brand name: Drape Net). The Cornell University study examined horticultural effects off the product. The first year of the trial found that there were no major negative effects to fruit quality or pest management from the products.

The brothers said the fruit reddened well. Although hail has been prevalent in the recent past – Wafler Farms also uses Drape Net – they didn’t have a chance to test the product in hail last year.

“If we put it up each year and never get hail, that’s labor well-spent as far as I’m concerned,” Todd Furber said.

Van De Walle Farm

Founded in 1983, Van De Walle Farm has grown from just 150 acres to 800 acres of fruit in production, with another 100 acres of open ground. Highlights at this farm were new plantings that included managed brands such as Sweet Cheeks, SweeTango and EverCrisp.

Scott VanDeWalle said that while the farm prunes and trims trees on platforms, it has not yet harvested from platforms. All of the one-, two-, and three-year-old trees get some sort of haircut or adjustment 4-5 times a year.

– Stephen Kloosterman, FGN Associate Editor

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