Quite obviously, from the title above, IFTA contains an I for International and a T for Tree. But in the larger sense, there is clearly an “it” that doesn’t get talked about enough.

So, let me discuss the association’s recent changes resulting from the board of directors’ 2017 strategic planning sessions.

Rod Farrow

The people of IFTA, whether directors, members or management, are constantly evolving and changing. We recently hired a new management company, Ag Association Management (AAM) of Kennewick, Washington; Shane Johnson (AAM’s owner/president) became our new executive director.

Shane and his wife, Sheri, and their team work exclusively with ag and ag commodity clients and will be a great fit for IFTA going forward. They have a built-in understanding of the seasonality of farming and how that has to dovetail with our board of directors, who volunteer large amounts of their time to keep IFTA a financially viable and world-leading grower association.

Another key change: the appointment of an education director. We started this position in mid-2017 with quite likely the best candidate in the world for that position, Karen Lewis, who is best known for her service with Washington State University Extension.

Change always presents opportunity to improve, and Karen’s knowledge, connections and enthusiasm catapult us forward in the way we plan, theme and present our education sessions, orchard tours and online content.

The board also has established an improved committee structure to include Communications, Young Professionals and Women’s Network, whose establishment was directed toward serving the needs of fast-evolving segments of our industry. Our committees are empowered to drive us forward by making faster decisions to maximize the benefits associated with annual membership. Look for constant improvement in what we are doing.

The current committee chairs — Hank Markgraf, Communications, Jen Baugher, Young Professionals and Lisa Jenereaux, Women’s Network — are always looking for ideas and potential volunteers to help plan and execute. It’s our hope that more of our membership will become involved at the committee level, which offers a great introduction to the inner workings of IFTA and the benefits of involvement, while helping to develop a pool of well-informed future directors.

While we are in the process of shrinking the number of directors on the board, we are trying to increase the number of people involved in the key committees. Our bylaws have also been reviewed, and future new director terms will be limited to two, three-year terms, with an additional two years to serve as president if necessary.

Our new Vision Statement – “Leading Global Tree Fruit Innovation” — would be a big ask for any company, but I firmly believe the foundational strength established by IFTA over the last 60 years allows us to deliver on that promise, along with other intangibles that are inherently difficult to measure. My 30 years of participation, plus the benefit of hindsight, clarifies that value and brings me to the all-important “it.”

During our 2017 strategic planning sessions, the board struggled to come up for a term related to “networking” that avoided the word but conveyed the huge value of our meetings above and beyond the educational sessions.

It dawned on me recently that this is the “it.” The International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association, or IDFTA, was formed in Michigan in 1957 and has stayed very true to the original vision, while showing continued growth in popularity and influence (remarkably so given how much has changed in horticulture the past 60 years).

I’m thinking “it” is quite possibly the biggest reason for our generational success. As growers, we can go to 100 different sources to find all the research and education we want. However, IFTA for a great many people, is the best place to get “it.”

I know I want “it,” and the 450 members who went to Washington and Michigan in 2017 and 2016 were looking for “it.”

Some 220 people committed serious money in less than 20 minutes to be sure they were first on the list to get some “it” in New Zealand in February and March of 2018.

For those of you looking to the future, there will be more “it” available in Kelowna, British Columbia, this summer and Rochester, New York, in February 2019.

“It” is so much more than networking. There is a camaraderie and brother/sisterhood that develops in our industry given the emotional roller coaster of success and failure, stress and accomplishment that other growers understand and want to share. It happens over coffee breaks, late nights at the bar and during freezing or boiling conditions — Cyclone Gita for the recent New Zealand travelers — endured during orchard tours.

Being able to meet the best in the industry over several days helps to develop great business relationships, but a lot of us gain so much more with the lifetime friendships that grow from these meetings. Lisa Jenereaux, our vice president, sums up how we are trying to encourage this perfectly: “My goal through our Women’s Network programming is to make sure we are inclusive and have organized opportunities for people to make connections. That really is what the Women’s Network is.

It has less to do with women and more about finding other avenues for people to make connections. It can’t be forced or intimidating, and smaller groups getting together, where there is a common link already, makes it possible.”

There is also a lot more content available at an IFTA event than the program. How about sitting on a bus for a couple of hours next to Lee Kalcsits, Stefano Musacchi, Greg Lang, Terence Robinson or a host of other internationally renowned scientists and university extension educators. As MasterCard would say, “Priceless.”

While IFTA is striving to maintain the legacy developed over the last 60 years, it is also looking to improve in every way possible. I

hope you will continue to support us as year-round members and attend just as many conferences and summer tours as you can. The “it” comes from the participation of hundreds of like-minded, yet diverse people finding a personal connection.

Contrary to popular belief you can’t get everything from your iPhone! •

Rod Farrow, of Waterport, New York, is president of the International Fruit Tree Association.