Aug 10, 2023
IFTA Summer Tour: A review of Day 1

The International Fruit Tree Association’s Summer Tour of orchards in Nova Scotia came on the heels of heavy late-July rains in parts of the Canadian Province, but attendees were treated to fine weather and roads that weren’t affected by flooding once the tours were underway.

The event started July 23 with a welcome reception, followed by two days of orchard tours that highlighted different varieties and growing systems in the Annapolis Valley, where the province’s apple industry is focused.

The first day of the tour featured four farms.

Birchleigh Farms Ltd.

Keith Fuller
Photo information at bottom of story.

Birchleigh Farms Ltd. is owned by Waldo and Judy Walsh. They purchased the farm from Waldo’s parents, Fred and Mary, in 1997. They later purchased two additional orchards in the South Berwick area, which they have updated with newer varieties and systems. They farm 100 acres of orchard (apples and pears) with apples representing more than 95% of production.

The predominant apple varieties grown by Birchleigh Farms are Honeycrisp, Minneiska (SweeTango), Gala and Ambrosia.

A big topic at the tour stop was replant disease. Soil scientist Keith Fuller, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was on hand to talk about research being done to help growers fight replant disease with the loss of Telone.

CAP Farms

The second stop on July 24 was at CAP Farms, established in the early 1980s by Andy and Gail Parker, who planted 25 acres of trees. The farm has expanded to 100 acres since the mid-1990s.

CAP Farms sprayer
This over-the-row sprayer was custom-designed by CAP Farms. Photos by Matt McCallum.

In 2001, the first Honeycrisp were grafted onto existing trees. This was the beginning of the transition from a barely economical farm to one with some hope of making money. In 2013, the Parkers implemented a standardized orchard design based on 11-foot row spacing and tree wall structure for all new plantings.

In 2016, their daughter and son-in-law, Janet and Eric Chappel, moved back to Nova Scotia, and the farm is now being transitioned to them.

Today, the farm is 500 acres of land with 100-plus acres of orchard — about 50 acres of trees at the original spacing, top-worked to Honeycrisp or Pazazz, and more than 50 acres of tree wall plantings.

The variety mix on the farm is about 75% Honeycrisp and 15% Pazazz, with the rest being Ambrosia, Red Prince and Cortland.

The farm has developed an over-the-row sprayer that was engineered to fit its orchard design.

Fun fact: In 2021 CAP Farms received the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Golden Apple Award for Most Innovative Grower.

Van Meekeren Farms

Stephen Van Meekeren, left, and his son, Harrison.

The third stop was Van Meekeren Farms, owned and operated by brothers Stephen and Michael Van Meekeren. Their late father, Frank Van Meekeren, purchased the farm in 1964.

When their father took ownership of the farm, it had a small dairy herd, vegetable production and an orchard with standard trees. The main focus of the business through the 1960s and 1970s was the dealing of locally grown produce as well as imported produce from other parts of Canada and the U.S. In the late 1980s there was a shift towards apple packing and production as the primary focus.

At that time, they built their first controlled atmosphere storage room. A few years later, the packing line was upgraded with electronic sorting capability.

Currently, the production side of the business consists of 125 acres of apples, most of which are high-density Honeycrisp, Gala, Ambrosia and Pazazz varieties. Red Prince, McIntosh, Cortland, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Gravenstein varieties are also grown on the farm.

The International Fruit Tree Association’s Summer Tour included a stop at Van Meekeren Farms.

Van Meekeren Farms stores, packs and markets all of its own fruit as well as fruit from other growers in the valley.

Vermeulen Farms

The fourth and final stop on day 1 of the IFTA tour was at Vermeulen Farms, a 450-acre fruit and vegetable farm owned and operated by Andy and Ben Vermeulen.

The Vermeulens grow strawberries on raised beds under plastic tunnels. Andy Vermeulen has traveled throughout North America and Europe, where the raised beds are widely used. He also adapted a trellis system for raspberries he saw in Holland to use in tomato and cucumber production, according to the Vermeulen Farms’ website.

Related content: IFTA Summer Tour: A review of Day 2

— Matt McCallum

Top photo: Keith Fuller, a soil scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, discusses research on replant disease. Photos by Matt McCallum.

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