As virtual conferences and trainings have become the new normal, organizers have spent a lot of time learning how to make them engaging and interactive, said Jacqui Gordon Nuñez, director of training, education and member services for the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
And while there is no replacing in-person gatherings, organizers have found that virtual meetings have their advantages, such as more people asking questions via chat — people who might be hesitant to raise their hands in a crowded room. Plus, there’s no travel time or expense, attendees can take a snack or stretch break whenever they want, and they can prioritize the sessions or events that matter most to their farms, Gordon Nuñez said.
Many growers have learned the ropes of virtual meetings by now, but with the big winter shows coming up — including the Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting and NW Hort Expo, and the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO, both in December — understanding how to make the most of the digital experience matters more than ever. If you plan to attend a virtual conference this winter and aren’t sure where to start, we’ve gathered some practical tips and tricks from those who’ve learned a thing or two.
Tips and tricks
Gwen Hoheisel, a Washington State University extension specialist, has conducted several virtual events for growers in the past few months. She said you can usually tell if it’s somebody’s first time attending a virtual meeting because of the frequent disruptions — maybe there’s a weird echo in their audio, or maybe they forgot to unmute themselves.
If you’re new to virtual conferences — and whether the platform is Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, vFairs or something else — Hoheisel had a few suggestions:
—Make sure you have a strong internet connection. Wired connections are better than wireless. If your internet is slow, maximize bandwidth by closing down other programs. Don’t try to send emails, surf the web or do anything else that might compete with the virtual platform.
—Test your system ahead of time. Whether it’s a desktop computer, laptop or smartphone, understand that its microphone, camera and speakers are three separate functions, each with its own method of connection. You can test each function on the virtual conference platform, but each platform does it differently. If you’re using a common platform such as Zoom, for example, you can test the microphone or camera by clicking on the little arrow to the right of its icon.
—When troubleshooting, make sure the volume is up on your device.
—Only log in with one device. If you log in with more than one, there will be an echo.
—Mute your microphone unless called on to speak. Unmute it when called on to speak.
Mark Longstroth, a Michigan State University extension fruit educator who also has some experience hosting virtual conferences, had a few suggestions of his own:
—Load the software the day before and try to log into the meeting. This will allow you to become familiar with the platform. If you get it right, you should see a box to enter your password. Enter it and see if you get in. Before the meeting, you will see a box saying something like “wait for the host to begin the meeting.” Now, you know you can get in and how to do it.
—If your internet connection is poor, restart your device and consider restarting your modem.
—If you have questions or comments about the presentation you’re attending, you can type them in the chat pod, or question and answer pod, located near the image of the speaker. Most sessions have hosts who are familiar with the topic being discussed and can provide knowledgeable answers to your questions.
Once you’ve practiced connecting to the virtual platform, look at the educational program ahead of time, earmark which sessions are of interest and make sure each of those connection links are accessible each day, said Greg Lang, an MSU horticulture professor and one of the coordinators of the Great Lakes EXPO’s fruit educational sessions.
—by Matt Milkovich
Highlights of this year’s WSTFA Annual Meeting
Monday, Dec. 7:
—The morning session, starting at 8 a.m. PST, will focus on state-of-the-industry talks on the theme “Agriculture is Essential for a Fruitful Future,” including talks from WSTFA President Jon DeVaney; US Apple President Jim Bair; retail expert Phil Lempert, also known as the Supermarket Guru; Washington State University leadership; and WSU economics professor Eric Jessup, who will speak about the impacts of the pandemic on transportation systems.
—The industry will honor leadership and service during a celebration session at 1 p.m.
—At 2 p.m., DeVaney will lead a conversation on communication during a crisis.
—The annual research flash session, including short updates from scientists working on industry priority projects, will run from 3 to 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 8:
—The morning session, from 8 to 10 a.m., will focus on emerging diseases and invasive pests — including little cherry disease, brown marmorated stink bugs, the Asian giant hornet and others.
—A Spanish-language session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. will feature talks on worker protection standards, innovation, little cherry disease and heat safety.
—An afternoon session on technology, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., includes labor tracking applications and an update on the smart orchard pilot project from the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, WSU, Innov8 Ag and Columbia Reach Orchards.
—A session on pears will run from 3 to 5 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 9:
—A Spanish-language session from 8:30 to 10 a.m. will feature COVID-19 management, navigating tree vigor and yield, preventing sexual harassment, managing irrigation and nutrition, and the presentation of the Latino Leadership Award.
—A pest management session from 10 a.m. to noon will focus on techniques that bridge the gap between conventional and organic production, including codling moth, pear psylla, fire blight and natural enemies of key insect pests.
—At 1 p.m., a session will focus on keeping essential workers safe and will feature researchers and an industry panel.
—At 2 p.m., attendees will have a chance to earn pesticide credits at a session that includes compliance updates, the latest on pesticide drift and preparing for a compliance investigation, all from the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Content on demand:
—The virtual meeting platform will also have a library of prerecorded presentations available for attendees to watch on their own schedule. Topics include labor tracking tools, orchard automation advances, organic pest control and soil science.
Highlights of the Great Lakes EXPO
The 2020 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market EXPO will be held virtually Dec. 8–10. Go to www.glexpo.com for details. Here are some highlights from the fruit educational sessions:
Tuesday, Dec. 8
Apple 1 (1–2 p.m. EST)
—Management of Codling Moth Using Sterile Insect Releases.
—Managing BMSB to Maintain Fruit Quality and Production Efficiency.
—Pheromone-Based Mating Disruption for Managing San Jose Scale.
—Season-Long Evaluation of a Solid-Set Canopy Delivery System with Optimized Microemitter Placement.
—Comparison of Residue to Urea for Reducing Spring Apple Scab Inoculum.
Apple 2 (2–3 p.m.)
—Apple Germplasm for the Fresh and Processing Industries.
—Evaluation of MAIA Apple Germplasm.
—Precision Control of Crop Load and Alternate Bearing.
—Online Map-Based Decision Support System for Topographic Site Planning in Apple Orchards.
—Reflections from Phil Schwallier: Forty Years of Extension Work.
Grapes (3:30–5:30 p.m.)
—Grape Disease Update.
—Insect Update in Grapes.
—Challenges Growing Wine Grapes in Northwest Michigan.
—Growing Minnesota Cold Climate Grapes.
Emerging Pest Issues 1 (7–8 p.m.)
—Cherry Development and Growing Degree-Day Model for Predicting Spotted Wing Drosophila Infestations.
—Changing Times: Outlook on Tree Fruit Disease Management in Michigan During the Next Decade.
Emerging Pest Issues 2 (8–9 p.m.)
—Status of the Invasive Spotted Lanternfly in the Northeastern U.S.
—Introduction to the Asian Giant Hornet.
Wednesday, Dec. 9
Blueberry 1 (10–11 a.m.)
—Blueberry Disease Update.
—Weed Control Options in Blueberries.
Cherry 1 (11 a.m.–12 p.m.)
—Utah Research on High-Density Tart Cherries: Can We Get Competitive Yields?
—Orchard Systems, Automation and Frost Protection in the PNW.
Cherry 2 (12–1 p.m.)
—Little Cherry Disease.
Apple 3 (1–2 p.m.)
—Dynamic Controlled Atmosphere Storage: Maximizing Storability While Reducing Disorders.
—Bitter Pit Characterization, Prediction and Mitigation in Honeycrisp.
—New Thinning Strategies to Improve Apple Profitability and Predictability.
—Optimizing Tree Quality for Early Orchard Establishment.
—PGR Strategies to Reduce Bitter Pit of Honeycrisp.
—Evaluation of Multiple Leader High-Density Apple Training Systems, 2020.
Blueberry 2 (1–2 p.m.)
—Blueberry Insect Update.
—Restoring Michigan Blueberries.
Apple 4 (2-3 p.m.)
—Black Stem Borer Control: Shoot Blight Management with Reduced Rates of Apogee, Actigard and Coppers.
—Augmentative Releases of the Samurai Wasp Against Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.
—Trunk Injection Control of Black Stem Borer in Apples.
—Apple Replant Experiment at Clarksville Research Center.
Blueberry 3 (2–3 p.m.)
—What Difference Does Mulch Make?
—Update from Michigan Blueberry Commission.
Peach and Plum 1 (7–8 p.m.)
—Plum, Set, Match: A Grower’s Guide to Winning the Ultimate Pollinizer and Fruit Set Game.
—New Trends in the Peach Tree Nursery Business at Sierra Gold Nurseries.
Peach and Plum 2 (8–9 p.m.)
—Strategies for Keeping Peach Orchards Free from Virus Problems.
Thursday, Dec. 10
Hard Cider (10–11:30 a.m.)
—What’s New in Cider and Consumption in the U.K. and E.U.
—Hard Cider Orchard Systems and the Harvest Process in England.
—Changes My Cidery Made in the Face of COVID-19.