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Hermann Thoennissen: Get the stakeholders together, develop a farm transition plan and be consistent about updating it every year. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Hermann Thoennissen: Get the stakeholders together, develop a farm transition plan and be consistent about updating it every year. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Farm transfer planning and lending were the topics in one Wednesday morning session about “Future Farmers” at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Wenatchee, Washington.

Farming families must view transition planning as a process, not an event, said several speakers. Start talking to attorneys, accountants and consultants several years in advance and discuss even small issues right away.

“Don’t let something small get big,” said Mark Stennes, operations manager of Stennes Orchards in Pateros, Washington.

Start training younger generations in the management side of the business early by teaching them bookkeeping, for example.

That could affect lending positions because some real estate loans require three years of management experience, said Jose Limon, a farm loan manager for the Farm Service Agency in Wenatchee.

Other topics included farm transfer tools such as trusts, possible tax changes suggested by President-elect Donald Trump and development rights transfers.

At the science-based applied horticulture session, speakers presented a variety of strategies — supported by recent research — to improve pruning, prevent sunburn, control pests, and irrigate smart.

An ongoing study on the use of netting as an alternative to overhead cooling is showing promising results, said Lee Kalcsits, a physiologist at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center.

“We see reduction in stress, reduction in sunburn and improvements in the soil moisture environment and really no negative effects on fruit quality,” Kalcsits said. “Most importantly, we see it as a viable replacement for evaporative cooling that will allow growers to control soil moisture later in the season, which we can’t do with evaporative cooling.”

And new tools are coming to WSU’s Decision Aid System (DAS), which predicts the timing of pest life cycles based on weather conditions to help growers plan sprays.

DAS director Vince Jones said that new models expected in the next two years include a measure of how efficient honeybees are foraging, and therefore, pollinating, and to predict when fruit will reach full size.

The final panel discussed fertigation strategies for pushing growth on baby apple trees, with a consensus for about 10-15 pounds of nitrogen per acre per week until the first of August.

There’s a variety of application systems available but it’s key to select fertilizers based on soil tests, especially keeping pH levels in mind, said Dan Griffith with G.S. Long Co.

He recommends soil tests every few weeks while you are learning how your soils respond to the strategy.

– by Shannon Dininny, Ross Courtney and Kate Prengaman