Many Organizations Impact Specialty Crops

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In the world of fruits and vegetables, a lot of attention is paid to a cultivar name. Sometimes the name is valued for historical or nostalgic reasons. Thomas Jefferson preferred the dessert apple cv Esopus Spitzenburg and Hewe’s Crab for cider. Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, or Mortgage Lifter evoke the aroma and taste of a freshly-picked heirloom tomato. Too bad they don’t yield as well as modern cultivars with nondescript names.

Red Delicious, once a proud banner for the Washington apple industry, now connotes a superficially attractive but potentially bland and mushy eating experience, while Honeycrisp suggests (and usually delivers) an explosive crispness. It seems that blueberries don’t need attractive cultivar names to drive sales. And of course, there are cases where even a terrific cultivar name doesn’t help (think the first President Bush and his aversion to any broccoli).

Name Changes

While cultivar names are still important at many points of sale, often those names, created to attract the commercial grower, are obscure at retail. However, Olympic gold for arcane names and acronyms goes to government and trade organizations, including the one I work for!

Nonetheless, some name changes are important because of their impact on specialty crops, and sometimes their acronyms are memorable. For example, the old Cooperative Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) is now the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an organization of paramount importance representing our country’s investment in the Land Grant University system and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). NIFA is a lot easier to say and signifies a meaningful acknowledgement of the national importance of agriculture and food.

Another acronym easy to remember is ICE. Most readers probably recognize Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the current version of the old INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services), maybe not in the most positive way, but we sure know who they are.

Another new acronym I hope all fruit growers recognize is IFTA. The International Fruit Tree Association is an old organization with a new name and exciting new identity. Most fruit growers will recognize the organization dropped the “Dwarf” to recognize that modern production systems have universally adopted dwarfing and precocity-inducing rootstocks. Quite an accomplishment and a tribute to the members who guided the IDFTA over the past 53 years. How many organizations actually accomplish their founding goals and change their name to represent that success?

IFTA’s Success

A recent example of that success was IFTA’s recent annual conference in Grand Rapids, MI, an event jam-packed with interesting and useful technical presentations, as well as a series of superbly organized field tours to commercial and research orchards, direct market operations, and an exciting glimpse of the future at Phil Brown Welding in Conklin, MI, where six bus loads saw practical, well-built equipment and a prototype mechanical assist apple harvester that may soon become a commercial reality.

The technical presentations included cultivar/rootstock considerations, apple, pear, and cherry training systems, plant growth regulators, chemical thinning, mechanization, orchard management, and postharvest practices. The organization that Michigan State University’s Phil Schwallier and his colleagues put into the conference paid off. I especially appreciated the smooth way everything ran — a tribute to the background logistics and support provided by new IFTA management.

The quantity and quality of the information was overwhelming, and more than one attendee had to spend time relaxing with a specialty crop product of their choice. I found the Michigan micro brews and white wines especially helpful.

Readers of this publication should also check out the Web version, featuring conference coverage and instantaneous access to troves of other information, at www.growingproduce.com. Also, go directly to the IFTA website at www.ifruittree.org. What a wonderful resource and history, documenting the tremendous changes our national tree fruit producers, working with dedicated research and Extension professionals, have incorporated into their operations.

Finally, become more familiar with IFTA. Check out the website and get ready for this summer’s tour in New York July 28-30 and next year’s annual conference in Pasco, WA, from Feb. 26-March 2, 2011. I can guarantee the information will be useful, the company engaging, and the relaxing specialty crop products of the highest quality at both venues.

Jim McFerson is manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee, WA.

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