Good Question: France
What most impressed you in France?
An international group of tree fruit growers spent nearly two weeks in France looking at tree training systems, new fruit varieties, packing houses, and research stations and learning about France's tree fruit industry. We asked several of the study tour participants for their impressions
Krzysztof Hermanowicz, Poland
A tree fruit grower from Warsaw, Poland, Hermanowicz was most impressed by the research and evaluation that are part of the development of new varieties. For example, the International Fruit Obtention program in the Loire Valley evaluates varieties and develops business plans before commercial release.
"There are 300 breeding programs around the world, with some 100 new varieties released every year," Hermanowicz noted. "The IFO group knew what they were doing."
Polish breeding programs do not have people who understand the game of matching varieties with location and marketing plans, he said. "They don't understand the game, but the game is still on. At IFO, they understand the game."
Bob Fowler, New York, USA
Fowler, of Fowler Farms in Wolcott, New York, a vertically integrated grower-packer, was impressed by the quality of apples he saw. "From an industry standpoint, France has worked very hard to improve their quality," he said. "They are looking at flavor, taste, aroma, Brix, and other factors that we didn't hear them talking about a few years ago. There are higher quality French apples in the European and United Kingdom markets where we compete."
John Belisle, Washington State, USA
Belisle and his wife, Dorie, of Lynden, Washington, grow and market apples, pears, cider, baked apple products and dried apple chips. John was surprised by the number of French orchards using hail nets. Trees were much taller than in the United States. In many orchards, trees were over 12 feet tall, with extensive wires and posts used for hail net support. "The trees are tall, but there are lots of apples up there," he said.
He was also surprised by the diversity and size of farms, many located on city outskirts. He learned that zoning laws keep houses in cities and require farms to stay in farming. "Nowhere in the United States can we see farming everywhere."
Bill Dodd, Ohio, USA
"What struck me most was learning about the 25 managed varieties in Europe," said Dodd, president of the Ohio Fruit Growers Marketing Association, a growers' marketing cooperative. "In the United States, we have about five managed varieties, and there is incredible interest in managed or club varieties. Europe is further along in the managed variety world and will serve as a reference to watch and follow."
Predo Jotic, Tasmania, Australia
"From a horticultural viewpoint, France is a very special place, with many climatic zones to practice tree fruit," said Jotic, a pomologist from Kingston Beach in Tasmania, Australia. "The countryside, with a good mix of corn and grain fields, pastures, orchards, and vineyards, is very appealing to the eye and to tourists."
The tradition of fruit growing in France goes back to Roman times, and they have learned how to adapt to different climatic regions, he said, using viticulture as an example. Grape growers have had centuries to learn what cultivars do best in the different growing regions, and appellation requirements now dictate what grapes can be grown where. "Tree fruit growers are taking a similar approach, taking advantage of special terroir [place], climate, technology, and human resources to exploit quality in different varieties," he said.
Steven Murray, Jr., California, USA
"With the high cost of labor in France, I don't know how French growers can make it in the long term," said Murray of Murray Family Farms, Bakersfield, California. "I have trouble imagining a future for an industry that has wages equivalent to $20 per hour in the U.S. and a 35-hour work week."
Murray also observed strong government support for research in France, noting that budgets for U.S. state and federal research stations are shrinking.
He found European consumers to be very nationalistic and more willing to support varieties grown locally even if costs are higher than other fruits.
Azusa Suzuki, Oregon, USA
Suzuki was especially interested in the fruiting wall trials she saw at a research station in southwestern France. The fruiting wall training system had good light interception, was easy to prune, thin, and pick with platforms and the tree height was more manageable than traditional central-axis systems of France.
As a pear grower from Hood River, Oregon, she wanted to learn about the French pear industry and trends. "I wanted to see what the European pear consumer thinks. I learned that pear consumption in France is declining. So, as I take out old pear trees, I will be planting cherries in their place."
Neal Manly, Washington, USA
Manly noted several things he found of interest—high labor costs, an aggressive pursuit of managed varieties, and well-established, well-funded research stations.
As a nursery representative from Ephrata, Washington, Manly noted that France has a sizable nursery industry for its size. French nurseries are very connected with nurseries around the world and have established close networks, he said.
"There is a lot of value in watching France and learning about what they do. In the United States, we don't always realize that there's a whole world out there, and we tend to think of ourselves as being first."
Linda Struye, Wisconsin, USA
Struye, who has a direct-market apple farm in Malone, Wisconsin, was impressed by the intensity of farming and "omnipresence" of hail nets.
She was also amazed at the consistent quality of peaches and nectarines she sampled during the trip. "You take a gamble when you purchase stone fruit in the United States because you never know what you'll get."