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In the December issue of Good Fruit Grower, Washington State University announced an upcoming fruit school on Competitive Orchard Systems (COS). During the annual meeting for the Washington State Horticultural Association, we were asked, "What will I learn?" and "Why should I attend yet another winter meeting?"

The objective of this fruit school is not merely to review the newest horticultural trends and management tactics, but to do so in a way that helps growers assess the economic and market realities of adopting and implementing technology. The WSU Fruit School on Competitive Orchard Systems is aimed at providing growers with the mindset and the tools necessary to improve on and sustain a profitable orchard operation.

Following the dismal returns of 1998 and 2000, the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, as well as Washington and Oregon State Universities, had to rethink the tools growers needed to stay competitive. A team, lead by Clark Seavert at OSU, developed the concept of a Competitive Orchard System that uses economic tools, such as A Grower’s Technology’s Economic Assessment Model (TEAM), to verify the business assumptions necessary in evaluations of current and future management practices.

What is a COS?

In general, a COS can be defined as an orchard designed to sustain a positive return on investment and generate income by:

  • Producing and marketing only profitable fruit;
  • Capitalizing on existing and evolving horticultural practices;
  • Increasing efficiencies in all aspects of orchard management.

    By definition, a COS does not simply mean planting a high-density orchard. Rather, it requires an evolution in orchard management. Growers, today and in the future, not only need horticultural knowledge, but must be savvy of markets and economic assessment. Through the use of new programs, such as TEAM, growers can assess the financial impact of management practices. Results from TEAM can show that many standard blocks will not keep pace with high-density orchards or compensate for increasing costs of production.

    The financial impact of all management decisions should be assessed. Honed horticultural knowledge, sound choices, alert grower response, and economic assessment is crucial to a COS. Tree density does not compensate for poor choices or lack of assessments. There are many plantings that will not be profitable.

    The WSU Fruit School will open with keynote speaker Dr. Dan Bernardo,
    WSU dean of the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, who will address global competitiveness issues.

    There are several pioneers in adopting competitive orchard systems. The fruit school will ask them to share their knowledge, successes, and mistakes.

    Three sessions over two days will highlight concepts in a COS. University faculty, producers, and industry experts will discuss and provide insight into current management practices that fit into the concept of a COS.

    The first session will focus on monitoring and measuring tree growth, productivity, and fruit quality (what you don’t measure, you can’t manage). This session will provide producers with the tools to compare horticultural practices and assess the impact of production decisions on orchard profitability.

    The second session is about developing and implementing new technologies, with a focus on orchard automation, new varieties and rootstocks, and product evaluation.

    The final session covers apple orchard establishment and replant. Proper management at this critical phase can cut years from the time of establishment to full production and improve long-term productivity. Topics covered will include matching the site, variety, rootstock and management system, mechanical, chemical and biological soil preparation, and planting, irrigation, fertigation, –trellis construction, tree training, and pest management practices for –successful production.

    Register

    The WSU Fruit School on COS will be held January 29–30 at the Wenatchee Confluence Technology Center, and televised via video conferencing to Yakima Valley Community College. Registration costs $75 for Wenatchee and $45 for Yakima. The registration fee covers complimentary snacks, catered hot lunches, and electronic proceedings of the fruit school.

    The WSU Fruit School is brought to you by WSU Extension in cooperation with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Costs for the school have been offset by financial sponsorship from the Yakima Pomological Club and North Central Washington Fieldmen’s Association. For more information and to register, visit www.ncw.wsu.edu/treefruit/wsufschool.html, or call (509) 422-7245.