Harold Thome is Pomesters’ Fruit Man of the Year

Harold Thome, a fourth-generation apple grower on Fruit Ridge near Comstock Park, Michigan, has been named Fruit Man of the Year by the Michigan Association of Pomesters.

Now 78, Thome has turned management over to son Steve, but he still works on the farm, doing spraying and other chores. “I always enjoy harvest,” he said.

He and his wife, JoAnn, are frequent travelers with the International Fruit Tree Association, tracing his membership back to 1959, the third year of its founding. He was a director for six years. He served as president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society in 1993.

“My advice to other growers is to get out and be involved with the industry,” Thome said. “See what other growers are doing locally and all over the world.”

Thome has an eye for sports. In the 1980s, he found whole-tree mutations of Empire, IdaRed, and Jonathan in his orchards. Those varieties are declining in popularity now, he said, but the exceptionally red strains he found became commercially successful.

The Thome farm now grows fresh-market varieties like Gala, Honeycrisp, and an early strain of Fuji (Aztec). They sell their fruit through Jack Brown Produce, which provides storage, grading, and sales services.

“We try to stay abreast of new technology and new varieties,” he said. Their new plantings are high density, 3- by 13-feet, on two-wire trellis and bamboo stakes, and trained to the tall spindle system.

Record number of students enrolled in viticulture program

Nineteen students completed the inaugural advanced viticulture class of the Hispanic Orchard Employee Education Program recently, while 25 students graduated from the program’s level-one class. The record number of students in the program is equal to the total ­graduates from the first three years of the level-one class.

The viticulture program is a partnership between the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers and Wenatchee and Yakima community colleges. Wenatchee instructors Leo Garcia and Francisco Sarmiento travel weekly from November to March to teach the courses at Yakima Valley Community College’s Grandview campus. Students of the level-one viticulture class learn about grape plant physiology, canopy manage­ment, soils, irrigation, plant nutrition, fruit thinning, harvest, marketing, and financial management. The advanced level students learn about integrated pest management, sustainable viticulture ­practices, and more.

To see photos and names of the graduating classes, visit the People page at Good Fruit Grower’s Web site at goodfruit.com.

Economist Don Ricks recognized for his work

Donald Ricks, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University who devoted his career to studying tart cherry markets and marketing, recently received the Faculty Emeriti Association award for ­outstanding postretirement contributions.

Until his retirement in 2003, Ricks’s work focused on solving the economic problems caused by large annual fluctuations in tart cherry crop size, which the industry now regulates through a federal marketing order. He was a market analyst and also the meeting chair in organizing the first tart cherry federal marketing order in 1972 and the Cherry Industry ­Administrative Board in 1995. “I was a consensus builder,” he said.

Emeritus faculty members at MSU elect to continue their work past retirement, at no pay, and Dr. Ricks worked with graduate students and faculty developing seminars and other opportunities to further the knowledge and training of graduate students in Extension work. As a member of the “Work Group on Scholarship of Extension,” he helped develop guidelines and expectations for scholarship of MSU Extension faculty and ways to evaluate and reward it.

He also developed and teaches a course for upper-class students on leadership and related people skills. Part of his retirement work is in developing ways for stakeholders to work together in industry strategic planning.