What’s a winter IFTA meeting without that tingling sensation of cold toes during a snowy orchard tour? This year, the organization aims to find out with a virtual meeting scheduled for February 22–24. 

International Fruit Tree Association education committee chair Greg Lang said the organizers planned three days of sessions, including orchard tour videos, to bring attendees what they expect from every IFTA event: presentations by world-class growers and leading scientists that provide insights into more profitable fruit farming. The virtual format lowers the financial and time commitments necessary to participate, he added.

“One advantage this year is that your whole team can attend around one computer,” said Lang, a professor at Michigan State University. “It’s a great learning opportunity for your entire operation.” 

Scheduling a virtual conference for participants from Nova Scotia to Washington, across four time zones, required compromises, Lang said, but all the sessions will be recorded so that attendees can catch up if they can’t make a live presentation.

On Monday, Feb. 22, the morning session will focus on farm financials and the economics of planting decisions. The afternoon session will focus on trellis and support structures for all tree fruits, inspired by some of the structural failures Washington growers experienced after windstorms last season, Lang said. 

“We’re going to be seeing more and more trellis and fruiting walls for all the tree fruits to support mechanization and other technologies,” Lang said, adding that trellis design to avoid structural failure is a concern in every region. 

On Tuesday, a virtual orchard will focus on Honeycrisp success and will feature leading growers in Nova Scotia, New York, Michigan and Washington. Filmed in several takes, starting before harvest, the video format offers a new opportunity to learn about orchard management at different points in the season. 

“Clearly, we can’t do a tour live, but it gives us a chance to do something we can’t usually do and start in the orchard when there are leaves on the trees,” and follow up with the usual winter talks about pruning, Lang said.

On Wednesday, the morning session will feature lectures by Washington State University horticulture professor Stefano Musacchi and MSU horticulture professor Todd Einhorn. Einhorn will speak about high-density pear systems and Musacchi will address how tree physiology can be managed to optimize apple fruit quality. 

The final session will focus on emerging technologies, hosted by IFTA chair-elect Jeff Cleveringa, who also heads the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s technology committee. 

Registration costs $200. You can register online at ifruittree.org and find more details about the schedule and speakers.  

—by Kate Prengaman