Heuser named to IFTA Hall of Fame

Wally Heuser played a major role in forming the Dwarf Fruit Tree Association. Its first meeting was held in March 1958, in an empty apple storage room at the Heuser family’s Hill Top Orchards at Hartford, Michigan. Heuser, then 27, helped lead a discussion on how to prune and train dwarf fruit trees. He hasn’t missed an annual meeting since.

He served as president for the first four years and as a board member until about 1975. He returned to the board in 1997 and retired from the board this spring.

Over the years, the association expanded its membership and focus. Last year, the name was changed again to International Fruit Tree Association.

At the March 2006 annual conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which was attended by 300 members from 14 countries, Heuser received a new Hall of Fame award in recognition of his extraordinary service to the association.

Bennett Saunders, president of the association, said Heuser had done more than anyone else to help create, maintain, and sustain the association.

Presenting the award, Paul Saunders of Virginia described Heuser as a man of integrity and wisdom, who has devoted himself to the cause of raising quality fruit.

Heuser, president of Summit Sales and International Plant Management in Lawrence, Michigan, has introduced more than 50 fruit varieties to the industry, including Smoothee Golden Delicious, Redchief Delicious, and Buckeye Gala. In recent years, he helped secure $30,000 annually for rootstock research from the Gisela Group.

"I’ve been having fun, and I’m still having fun," Heuser said. "This is the greatest industry going, and the people in it are what make it so great."

Dr. Jerome Frecon receives researcher award

Dr. Jerome Frecon, agricultural agent and county Extension director with Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension in Clayton, New Jersey, received the IFTA Researcher Award for his work in the evaluation of fruit varieties.

Presenting the award, association board member Bob Black said growers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond have relied on his expertise in peach and nectarine varieties. During the past 23 years, he has sorted through hundreds of cultivars from breeders and nurseries around the world, and his careful evaluations and astute observations have guided an industry anxious for new and improved varieties, Black said. "Many peach and nectarine growers throughout the United States have turned to Jerry for advice on the very difficult task of selecting varieties for commercial production, packing, and retail sales."

Rice brothers share IFTA’s Grower Award

Four brothers who run Rice Fruit Company at Gardners, Pennsylvania, shared the IFTA’s Grower Award for outstanding leadership, progressive packing and marketing, innovative production, and commitment to their community.

David, Ted, John, and Mark Rice, the sons of Muriel and Art Rice, are the third generation to operate the company and the seventh generation to grow apples in Adams County.

David, who is president and director of the apple packing plant facilities and personnel, researches new fruit packing technologies to maintain innovative pre sorting, storing, and packing facilities.

Ted (Arthur Rice III) manages office operations and finance, and communicates with more than 75 fruit-growing families who deliver fruit to Rice Fruit Company.

John is responsible for sales and market development. A former chair of the U.S. Apple Association, he led the industry through important issues, such as the Alar crisis of 1989.

Mark is president of R&L Orchard Company, which has about 1,000 acres of apples, peaches, nectarines, and pears. He was one of the first growers in the United States to adopt the principles of the French axe training system, having translated Jean-Marie Lespinasse’s journals "Conduite du Pommiere" into English while on a Rotary Foundation scholarship at East Malling in 1983.

All are dedicated to growing and shipping the highest quality fruit and to fostering a grower community of abundant cooperation, said IFTA President Bennett Saunders, who presented the award.

New Jersey names outstanding grower

Ken Wightman, president of Wightman Farms in Morristown, New Jersey, received the New Jersey State Horticultural Society’s Outstanding Fruit Grower Award.

Wightman earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pomology from Rutgers University, New Jersey, where he worked with pomologist Dr. Norman Childers.

During the past 37 years, he has converted Wightman Farms into a successful direct marketing operation and agritourism stop, and recently opened a wine shop to complement fruit and vegetable sales. He and his wife, Liz, grow 150 acres of fruit and vegetables. In the summer of 2005, they hosted a tour group from the IFTA. Wightman is a member of the Rutgers IPM Study Committee and has served as a director of the New Jersey State Horticultural Society.

Win Cowgill and Jon Clements honored by IFTA

The IFTA’s award for service went to Win Cowgill with Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, and Jon Clements, tree fruit Extension specialist at the University of Massachusetts. About eight years ago, they developed and maintained a Web site for the IFTA at a time when not everyone even knew what a Web site was, said association President Bennett Saunders. They filmed and photographed numerous IFTA events and tours and featured them on the Web site. They have also helped host summer tours.

Peach award goes to Myron Hurff of New Jersey

Myron Hurff, a grower and marketer from Monroeville, New Jersey, has received the National Peach Council Achievement Award. Herff, his wife, Darlene, and son John own the William Schober Sons Orchards, a business founded 109 years ago.

The Hurffs bought the operation in 1977 and have 275 acres of apples and peaches. The fruit is sold wholesale, through their farm market, or at community farmers’ markets in southern New Jersey.

Hurff was president of the National Peach Council in 1993 and was elected treasurer in 2000. He has been a director of the New Jersey Peach Promotion Council and is on the board of the New Jersey Apple Industry Council.

He is a past president of the New Jersey State Horticultural Society and received its Outstanding Fruit Grower Award in 1996. He has participated in the Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension IPM Program since its inception in 1981.

Dr. Dave Ferree receives Extension award

Dr. Dave Ferree, pomologist at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, received the IFTA’s Extension award for his work in developing and evaluating production systems for apples. He has researched the influence of pesticides, rootstocks, and cultural practices on the physiological processes of apple trees. Ferree earned a bachelor’s degree in pomology from Pennsylvania State University, and his master’s degree and doctorate in pomology from the University of Maryland. He was a captain in the U.S. Army from 1969 until 1971 when he joined the Ohio center.