KELOWNA, B.C. — British Columbia orchardist David Geen was named Outstanding Grower of the Year by the International Fruit Tree Association at its annual meeting here this week.
Geen owns Coral Beach Farms, near Kelowna, B.C., where he has 400 acres of cherries, making him the biggest cherry grower in Canada. Presenting the award, IFTA board member Sam DiMaria described how Geen started out with a very small pear orchard at Carr’s Landing and replanted it with new cherry varieties from the cherry breeding program in Summerland, B.C. He took Sweetheart cherries to Vancouver to sell when no one had heard of the variety. DiMaria said Geen has been on the leaving edge of horticulture and management techniques, always with an emphasis on producing high-quality cherries with green stems.
(Learn about Geen’s pruning philosophy in this 2010 feature in Good Fruit Grower.)
DiMaria, who grows apples, table grapes, and pears in Kelowna, was surprised to also receive an Outstanding Grower of the Year Award. DiMaria and his family emigrated to Canada from Europe in 1959 and he grew up in his parents orchard and vineyard. After college he worked for nine years in the lumber business before buying the first of several orchards and replanting them at high densities. He has been politically active in the British Columbia tree fruit Industry, was a founding board member of the Okanagan Plant Improvement Company, and has been on the IFTA board for nine years. He and his wife Patti have 44 acres of tree fruits and grapes.
Plant pathologist and consultant Dr Bill McPhee received the Outstanding Extension Award for his work in helping the B.C. tree fruit industry manage fruit diseases.
McPhee earned a doctorate from the University of Alberta and in 1978 and was appointed postharvest pathologist with Agriculture Canada at Summerland. After six years, he left to do extension work with the Okanagan-Similkameen Cooperative. In 1996, he went to work for Pace International based in Seattle, Washington, and in 2004 joined the Okanogan Tree Fruits Cooperative’s extension service. He now has a consulting business called Canadian Agricultural Service and in recent years has worked mainly on management of apple replant disease and soil-related problems.
Drs. Gerry and Denise Neilsen, soil scientists with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, received the Outstanding Researcher Award. The couple met while studying for their masters’ degrees at Queen’s University in Ontario, and earned their doctorates at McGill University in Montreal. They have worked at the Summerland research station since 1978, focusing on precision management of water and nutrients for perennial crops.
Gie and Carla Perleberg and Dena Ybarra, who operate Columbia Basin Nursery in Quincy, Washington, received the association’s Industry Service Award for giving back to the industry. Presenting the award, Tim Welsh, said the nursery is a family operation run by strong individuals, each of whom has a unique role, and the impact of the business has crossed county, state, and international lines. The nursery was founded by Gie and her late husband Carl. Look for an article about the family in the April 1 Good Fruit Grower.