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The International Fruit Tree Association gave awards during the winter conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in early March.

Phil Brown, owner of Phil Brown Welding, Conklin, Michigan, won the Industry Service Award for his 35 years of providing innovative machines for the fruit industry. His latest creation, a vacuum harvester for fresh market apples, drew lots of attention on the IFTA tour to his facility.

The company makes a line some 35 products, including the Brownie man-positioning machine for pruning. Known as the man who could fix anything, he began his career serving fruit growers on Fruit Ridge northwest of Grand Rapids. Today, his company is known around the world, according to the citation. Brown “built the business around the family,” the citation said, and his wife Dorothy, sons David and Brian, and daughter Melissa were there with him to accept the award.

Phil Schwallier, Michigan State University fruit educator, won a Special Service Award for his 30-plus years working with fruit growers in west central Michigan. He is a leading expert on thinning apples.

He and his wife, Judy, own Schwallier’s Country Basket, a farm market Judy manages with help from the family. They grow fruit, and their leading product is Honeycrisp apples. Both of them grew up on fruit farms on the Ridge.

Phil organized the IFTA meeting, which pulled speakers from around the world and toured some of the best orchards on Fruit Ridge.

More than 20 years ago, Schwallier won the Outstanding Extension Educator award from IFTA. That award this year went to Cornell’s Alison DeMarree, an agricultural economist who analyzes costs and returns for apple growers in New York. With her husband, Tom, she also operates a fruit farm.

DeMarree’s award was presented by Cornell horticulturists Terence Robinson and Steve Hoying, who developed the tall spindle system of apple production. DeMarree’s analysis shows that system is the most profitable orchard design for New York growers.

DeMarree monitors costs and returns each year, using actual data from about 20 New York farms and the experience of her own farming operation.

The IFTA Hall of Fame Award—given only for the fourth time in IFTA’s 53-year history—went to Evan Milburn, a Maryland fruit grower with a long history of participation in IFTA leadership and activities. He operates, with his son Nathan and other family members, an orchard and farm market near Elkton, Maryland.

The three former winners—all of whom were at the meeting and the award presentations—are Wally Heuser, Steve Blizzard and Paul Rood. Heuser operates Summit Sales and International Plant Management, Hartford, Michigan, and was the first president of IFTA. Blizzard manages a large fruit farm in California.  Paul Rood farms in southwest Michigan.

The researcher of the year award was presented to Dr. Duane Greene, who has spent his career at the University of Massachusetts. He has worked extensively on the effects of plant growth regulators on fruit and has been involved in testing of new apple varieties.

Greene never had an extension appointment, but he developed close relationships with Massachusetts and mid-Atlantic fruit growers.

Also inducted into the Hall of Fame was Robert Carlson, the Michigan State University professor of horticulture, who in 1958 was appointed by department chair H.B. Tukey to provide management services to the newly formed Dwarf Fruit Tree Association. He created Compact Fruit Tree, the association’s publication, and organized the tours that took IFTA members around the world to evaluate high-density fruit systems.

Today, the Robert Carlson Lecture is named in his honor. This year, that lecture was given at IFTA by Dr. John Palmer, a New Zealand researcher who is a leader in orchard systems research with special emphasis on light interception and partitioning and use of light by fruit, shoots and roots.