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An Expo exhibit showing how to prune and train tall spindle apple trees, using various styles of clips, drew grower interest during the three-day show, December 10-12, 2013. Here, 85-year-old Bastian Blok and his wife, Ann, talk to Mike Rasch, one of the designers of the DBR vacuum harvester. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

An Expo exhibit showing how to prune and train tall spindle apple trees, using various styles of clips, drew grower interest during the three-day show, December 10-12, 2013. Here, 85-year-old Bastian Blok and his wife, Ann, talk to Mike Rasch, one of the designers of the DBR vacuum harvester. Click on the image to see more photos and videos from the show. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Three themes dominated the tree fruit portion of the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market Expo, held the second week of December in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The three: Bees and the need for growers to take greater care to protect them and other pollinators; the creation of the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, which is slated to be voted upon in February; and fruiting walls for apples.

Dr. Mary Ann Frazier delivered the main bee message. The Penn State apiculturist said there is mounting evidence that fungicides applied near bloom are a problem. While not directly toxic to bees themselves, they amplify—by a factor of 2,000 times or more—the effects of insecticides and miticides, she said.

Even the miticides beekeepers use to subdue the varroa mites that parasitize bees directly can become lethal to bees when the synergizing effect of fungicides is added to the mix.

Two Michigan State University entomologists, Dr. Mark Whalon and Dr. Matt Grieshop, reinforced the message. Whalon said that beekeepers have aroused the entire nation about the plight of honeybees, resulting in intense political pressure on members of Congress who, in response, have turned up the heat on the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency to do something about the crisis. He expects EPA will act soon.

Whalon said we may be entering a “new age of cautionary restraint,” meaning that EPA could delay approval of or cancel uses of pesticides even if scientific research does not show cause-and-­effect relationships between the use of an insecticide and bee deaths.

Grieshop began preliminary research last year to find ways to reduce apple scab and other disease inoculum in orchards so the need to use fungicides during the critical bloom period will be reduced.

A group of ten Michigan fruit industry leaders—growers of apples, peaches, cherries, and plums—was appointed last summer to serve as interim directors of what may become the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission. They spoke several times in several fruit sessions to encourage growers to vote yes in February for creation of the commission.

The commission’s mission, once created, will be to generate about $675,000 a year to support Michigan State University research and extension, with special emphasis on maintaining the facilities at the four Michigan fruit experiment ­stations.

Fruiting walls

Dr. Alberto Dorigoni, a tree fruit researcher from Italy’s most northeastern county in the Tyrol region at the foot of the Alps made two presentations on fruiting walls. Dorigoni spoke a year ago at the International Fruit Tree Association meeting in Boston and made such an impact that researchers at Cornell University and Michigan State University immediately began testing his methods and growers began adopting them. By summer, growers in New York and Michigan, using mechanical hedgers, had converted some of their tall spindle orchards into fruiting walls.

Dorigoni packed the room at the Expo, as growers wanted to hear more.

The Expo, again this year, had record attendance. Allyn Anthony, executive secretary of the Michigan State Horticultural Society, said exhibitor space was sold out and nearby hotels sold out of rooms months in advance. As the show began its third day, trade show manager Sharri German said registrations had topped 4,100, a record, and exhibitor numbers reached 425 companies, 60 more than last year, also a record.

“We’re almost to the walls,” she said. Growers from 45 states and nine Canadian provinces attended the three-day show December 10-12. •

To see videos and photos from the convention, visit our Great Lakes Expo coverage page goodfruit.com/glexpo.