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What does it take to be a competitive grower? All will be revealed at a Washington State University Extension Fruit School on Competitive Orchard Systems that will be held simultaneously in Wenatchee and Yakima on January 29 and 30.

A line-up of industry experts will explain during the workshop how to design and grow competitive orchard systems for the future.

A competitive orchard system is one that generates a positive return on investment by producing and marketing only target fruit—fruit that returns a profit.

Gwen Hoheisel, WSU Extension educator in Benton County, said the competitive grower capitalizes on existing and evolving horticultural practices, adopts technologies that increase efficiencies in all aspects of orchard management, and analyzes the economics.

Keynote speaker Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at WSU, will discuss the issues that the fruit industry needs to be concerned with in order to stay competitive in the global market.

The program will then address three broad topics: monitoring and measuring; developing and implementing new technologies; and orchard establishment. A computer program called TEAM (Technology’s Economic Assessment Model), developed by Oregon State University agricultural economist Dr. Clark Seavert, will be used to illustrate the economic impacts in these areas and analyze the costs and benefits.

Monitoring and measuring: Hoheisel said growers can’t manage what they don’t measure, whether that’s the growth of the tree, fruit yields, or the size of the fruit. There will be advice on how to conduct on-farm experiments.

Developing and implementing new technology: Speakers will discuss the traits of new apple varieties and site requirements, and look at the pros and cons of managed varieties, such as Pacific Rose and Jazz. There’ll also be advice on how to make an orchard adaptable to new and future technologies. Hoheisel said a high-density planting in the form of a fruiting wall will accommodate new technology better than an orchard of large trees. Technology can also be used to improve management and trace the fruit from orchard to market. TEAM will be used to analyze the impact of making changes in the orchard, such as planting a new variety, planting it on a good site versus a less appropriate site, or purchasing a piece of equipment.

Orchard development: The goal should be to develop a block in the shortest amount of time from planting to production, Hoheisel said. Replanting everything or even a certain percentage of the orchard each year isn’t recommended. "What we’re suggesting is, analyze your blocks and if there are blocks that are losing money, don’t let that go on. Take the block out and develop it with the new system—a high-density fruiting wall. Watch the market and see how you do with that block."

The Fruit School will be presented at the Confluence Technology Center in Wenatchee and linked to Yakima Valley Community College’s Deccio Higher Education Building by videoconference for those who would rather not travel to Wenatchee.

Registration costs $75 for Wenatchee and $45 for Yakima. The cost includes lunch and coffee. The registration deadline is January 22.

For information or to register, phone Okanogan County Extension at (509) 422-7245, or visit the Web site at www.ncw.wsu.edu/treefruit/WSUFSchool.html.