My favorite things about summer at the Good Fruit Grower are farm tours and field days — and freshly harvested cherries and apricots. Thanks to the hard work of farmers and farmworkers, we will all still get to enjoy the latter. However, the former look unlikely as pandemic precautions against group gatherings remain in place.
As regular readers know, industry events drive our coverage. Looking ahead to a summer without an International Fruit Tree Association tour or extension-led field days, my calendar looks strangely empty. Like everyone else, our reporting trips to visit growers and researchers beyond our home bases in Central Washington and Michigan have been postponed, if not outright canceled.
It’s disappointing, indeed, but there’s a flip side to this disruption in our normal work: We have more stories than ever to tell about how growers are adapting to the pandemic, about new regulations and resources, and the ripple effects from the new coronavirus on consumer behavior, retail marketing, financial markets and state budgets, to name just a few.
We’ve already started that coverage, both in the magazine and online, where you can find a link to all of our coronavirus coverage — from worker safety recommendations to canceled and postponed industry events — at goodfruit.com/coronavirus.
Meanwhile, industry groups across the country are working quickly to turn traditional spring and summer meetings into webinars. Among our university extension partners, many of these webinars remain archived online as a resource.
Michigan State University put a whole series of spring workshops on YouTube (search for MSU Fruit), including early-season cherry and apple pests, best practices for sprayer calibration, blossom thinning with the pollen tube growth model, and weed management. You can take a class on flower biology and pollination or learn about the latest research in orchard robotics by Washington State University and Oregon State University engineers at treefruit.wsu.edu/videos/.
At Cornell University, research and extension teams have set up weekly “office hours” meetings on the Zoom platform, so producers with questions about food safety, tree fruit, grape, berry or hard cider can gather with peers and educators for short presentations and discussions. They also developed guidance on the best practices for U-pick farms during this pandemic, which can be found at smallfarms.cornell.edu.
In other innovative approaches to reach growers, several industry educators have turned to podcasts, including “Orchard Outlook” by Perennia Food and Agriculture Inc., Nova Scotia’s public-private ag development agency, and “What’s Killing My Kale?” by the University of Minnesota Extension, which includes both fruit and vegetable topics. Created well before the pandemic, they serve to keep busy producers in the loop on new research and technology, without the need for gathering. I found them on my phone’s podcast app, and I bet you can, too.
In another example of leveraging existing resources, Penn State Extension made its existing online courses free; I signed up for one to learn more about what makes that region’s climate unique and what cultivars and systems are best suited for it.
It’s a silver lining, albeit a thin one, of the pandemic. By pushing industry education from in-person to online, we can learn from others around the country, without leaving our homes.
As for our team at the Good Fruit Grower, we plan to work with our partner organizations across the country to find new ways to share information to best serve you, our readers. For example, we’re working with Washington State University Extension to film video interviews for “virtual field days” and create video training tools on how to scout for things such as little cherry disease and grapevine phylloxera.
We already produced one such collaborative effort: a tutorial from WSU Extension specialist Bernardita Sallato on using soil pits to inform better orchard management. You can find it in English and Spanish on our website, goodfruit.com, where we continue to post the latest news on the coronavirus and its effects on our industry.
As always, please don’t hesitate to ask questions or alert us to areas of coverage you need to adjust to this “new normal” of social distancing and online communication. The mission of the Good Fruit Grower is to serve you, the growers, and we will continue to provide the latest and best news and recommendations to ensure your continued success. •
—by Kate Prengaman