Paul and Gérald Lussier have about 100 acres of apples and are part of the apple club that hired Natalie Tanguay 18 years ago. Despite good advice, they make some mistakes—like putting Honeycrisp on this B.118 rootstock. They’ve been fighting to control its vigor ever since and asked IFTA tour members for some helpful advice. Photos by Richard Lehnert

Paul and Gérald Lussier have about 100 acres of apples and are part of the apple club that hired Natalie Tanguay 18 years ago. Despite good advice, they make some mistakes—like putting Honeycrisp on this B.118 rootstock. They’ve been fighting to control its vigor ever since and asked IFTA tour members for some helpful advice.
Photos by Richard Lehnert

Apple growers in Canada’s Quebec Province march to the beat of a different drummer. They are much more tightly organized than are growers in the United States.

At the provincial level, all apple growers must be members of the Federation of Apple Growers of Quebec (see “Apple growers union gives market power to Quebec growers”), which bargains with buyers and establishes minimum prices. At the local level, they are organized into eight clubs of 20 to 70 producers each, who share the services of professional technical consultants.

United States growers would probably chafe a bit at the discipline of it, because some of the advice sounds like orders from higher up. Quebec growers use integrated fruit production practices that have a strong environmental component. Use of fertilizer, for example, is tightly controlled.

The Quebec growers seem proud of their industry and pleased to be part of it.

When the International Fruit Tree Association held its annual study tour in the Montreal area in late July, more than 180 apple growers were there to tour some 15 orchards and a research facility.

Producer clubs

At one of those stops—the farm of brothers Gérald and Paul Lussier near Rockburn—professional agronomist Natalie Tanguay explained the operation of her growers’ club, the Agricultural Producers Club of the Southwest, located in St. Martine. It is one of five clubs covering production regions south of Montreal, the region called Montérégie. The club is 20 years old, and she has been its agronomist for 18 years. The Lussiers are members of her club.

Canada has no national system to disseminate agricultural information like the U.S. land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension Service, she said. On the other hand, growers don’t rely on chemical company representatives for scouting services and pest control ­recommendations either.

There is an organized system in Quebec so that research gets done, production and marketing problems are addressed, and growers receive high quality scientific information.

Tanguay works closely with her 20 growers. She visits each of them every week, acting as an orchard scout and advisor. “We give individualized advice on pest control, pruning, thinning, maturity, and storage,” she said. “We do all the maturity tests for individual producers.”

There are Ministry of Agriculture agronomists who support local agronomists who make recommendations for the growers. These are more specialized people like Vincent Philion, a plant pathologist who does research and provides expert advice on diseases like fireblight and apple scab, both of which put heavy pressure on Quebec apple growers. Philion was a key resource on the tour, explaining what growers were doing, interpreting from the French language when needed. Only about two-thirds of the farmers on the tour spoke both French and English.

One of Tanguay’s jobs is to keep a close eye on the nutritional status of grower orchards. The agronomés work to “assure the protection of the public,” she said. There is a heavy emphasis on environmental stewardship in the province. There are strict regulations in place on fertilizer use, and farmers can only buy the recommended amount. Each farm has a plan that includes an amount of fertilizer they are allowed to purchase, “avoiding excessive amounts that would be harmful to the ­environment,” she said.

These farm plans are sometimes developed with the help of private consultants. Growers pay for these services.

Tim Petch, another grower whose farm was visited on the tour, said fees must be paid by all growers who are part of the club system, and any apple grower with five hectares or more had to be part of a club. Fees in his club start at about $700 a year for basic services, with additional fees for some additional services, he said. But each club is private, sets its own fees, and hires its own agronomist.

Tanguay said that when the club system started, growers paid about 30 percent of the cost, and now pay about half. The rest is paid for by the federal and provincial ­governments.

Tanguay noted a debt to the International Fruit Tree Association. In 2010, she saw the codling moth areawide mating disruption work at Cornell University during the IFTA visit there, and implemented a program among her growers the following year.

Quebec growers look carefully at what goes on in New York and especially the Champlain Valley production area, which is so close to them, said grower Paul Lussier.

Provincial support

Karine Bergeron, who is with Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, said there are about 6,000 hectares of apples in Quebec, with most of them grown in the Monteregian Hills around Montreal. About 550 growers produced 5.255 million bushels last year, somewhat below the average of 5.8 million. McIntosh still prevails, followed by Cortland, Spartan, and Empire, but Honeycrisp and Gala are on the increase.

Last year, the Quebec ministry spent about $5.8 million of a $12 million overall budget on a replant project to help Quebec growers shift from older varieties on large trees to new varieties in high-density configurations, and165 growers upgraded orchards as part of the program. Growers can get about $6,000 an acre from the province for planting new trees, and they may also qualify for about $2,000 in federal money to take out the old orchard. The program will end next year.

Role of IRDA

One of the harder agencies to fathom is the private-public partnership called IRDA, which translated from the French is the Institute for Research and Development for the Agri-Environment. It is like a combination of the U.S. land-grant system and the USDA, but is provincial, not national, with a large dose of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thrown in.

It is a nonprofit research corporation that was founded in 1998 by four founding groups representing the interests of the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Sustainable Development of the Environment and Parks, the Department of Economic Development, and the Union of Agricultural Producers.

It has researchers and research stations, and its stated mission is to engage in research, development, and ­transfer activities that foster agricultural innovation in a ­sustainable manner.

The tour visited one of its research facilities, where 20 acres of research orchards were located in a public park at Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville. There, we saw experimental trials on fireblight control and a fixed-in-place spray ­system used to provide water for frost protection or ­irrigation, if needed, plus pesticides.

The facility plays three roles—research, demonstration, and heritage preservation—targeted to serve both ­producers and the general public.