Learning to speak any language in a few days is impossible, and I found French, with its fluid pronunciation, especially difficult. But after traveling in France for two weeks, I've learned there is a universal language spoken among tree fruit growers. The language of horticulture is one of passion, love of the land, and independence, and is shared among growers
regardless of country.
This was my first international trip with the IFTA, a group that has spent the last 50 years bringing horticulturists from around the globe together and organizing international study tours. Participants came from Poland, the United States (New York, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and California), Australia, Japan, and Canada.
With the common background of agriculture, I noticed an instant bond among the busload of participants, some of whom were complete strangers. In between orchard visits, informal talk on the bus centered on industry topics like labor, crop outlook, tree training systems, and marketing. Many of the spouses attending were also involved in the family orchard business and shared their viewpoints about industry issues.
French growers, researchers, marketers, breeders, and nursery representatives greeted the international group enthusiastically. The French counterparts were open about their operations and eager to share their struggles and successes. Their passion for fruit production was evident in the quality of fruit they produced and the care given to the orchards we visited.
- Nurseries—Nursery trees, though more expensive than U.S. trees, are high quality—highly feathered, vigorous, and quick to produce in the fertile soil. French nurseries are well connected, with networks and license agreements that span Europe, North America, South Africa, South America, and the Southern Hemisphere.
- Managed varieties—Managed variety programs are becoming the norm in France and Europe. There are about 25 programs already in existence, representing varieties with disease and pest resistance, unique color, and unique flavor and aroma.
- Major variety—Golden Delicious is still a mainstay variety in France, but in recent years, growers have removed some acreage to plant newer varieties.
- Mechanization—High labor costs in France are driving interest in mechanization of thinning and pruning. The Darwin string thinner, under evaluation in the United States, is also being studied in France. Platforms are routinely used for orchard tasks of hanging hail nets, pruning, and thinning, but are only rarely used to aid in the harvest of fruit. Stepladders are used by workers to reach high-hanging fruit instead of the cumbersome orchard ladders used in America. Some stepladders have wheels for easier movement in the orchard.
- Tree height—French growers utilize all of the space under the extensive hail nets that are erected, picking fruit off the tops of trees that are up to 12 to 13 feet tall. Tree height was not a concern as platforms are used routinely for orchard tasks.
I encourage tree fruit growers from all countries to attend future IFTA study tours. The next opportunity will be in February when the annual IFTA conference and orchard tours are held in Austria, Germany, and Poland. Those attending IFTA meetings and tours tend to be progressive orchardists who are on the cutting edge of industry trends, willing to share their knowledge.
Even more important, IFTA members are downright nice people, interested in industry affairs and the world. I wouldn't hesitate to invite any of the French participants into my home to spend the night, and I hope to see them again in the future.