In the September/October 2009 issue I wrote a column in which I identified four specific steps that you could take to advance your skills and understanding of your operation and our industry. In this column, I will enumerate several resources that you can utilize in your quest to expand your knowledge in order to function at the top of your game.
One important point to consider is the source of your information. In the “information age” it is easy to just “Google it,” meaning using the Google search engine to help find what you are looking for on the Internet. In terms of information that will assist you in decision-making for your fruit business, this approach may or may not yield content that is useful, reliable, appropriate or helpful.
Have Google Monitor The Web For You
Google, however, does offer a very helpful tool called Google Alerts. Once you have set up a free Gmail account, you can subscribe to Google Alerts in order to “monitor the web for interesting new content.” You choose some specific keyword terms to use (e.g., apple fire blight) and then designate several parameters that you want (e.g., how often to receive messages, sources, language, region, how many results) and you put in the email address where you wish to receive the alerts.
Google monitors the web for you, and as soon as Google identifies new content on the Internet matching the search criteria, you will receive an email message including the direct link to the source identified. In some cases, information sent to you may be irrelevant but, in other cases, it may be timely and particularly helpful. You choose what to read or watch (if it is a video link, for example).
A critical consideration regarding the source of information is geographic (e.g., region of the world). In the case of specific advice or recommendations that you would use to make decisions on your farm, a good question to ask yourself is, “How local is the source?” This is especially important when considering scion cultivars and rootstocks. The latter may have been bred and selected for performance in other regions, states or countries where climate, pests, and disease pressure may be significantly different.
Numerous common information sources that you may use regularly include government, academic, commercial, public and peers. Both federal and state government agencies provide resources online that are targeted specifically toward agriculture and the tree fruit industry, in particular. The land-grant university research scientists and Cooperative Extension Service specialists provide unbiased, research-based information that is regionally specific. Commercial enterprises are often good sources for particular information, but you need to be aware of bias or preference related to the products or services they offer.
Public sources (e.g., Wikipedia) may have information contributed by lots of different people but it may not be adequately peer-reviewed by experts to ensure that everything is factually correct and accurate. Finally, your peers can be a great resource. For example, what did or didn’t work for them at their location and why?
Read Up On The Industry
It is good to be an avid reader. There are four excellent grower trade journals that you may be reading already – either in print or from their websites. Each magazine has experienced writers and also includes invited articles from experts. My advice would be to read from each of them! These include this publication, American/Western Fruit Grower. The others are Good Fruit Grower, Fruit Grower News, and European Fruit Grower magazine. The latter is quite expensive ($220 USD/year) but it offers a European perspective to all things tree fruit. If you are a member of the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA), you already receive their regular publication, the Compact Fruit Tree, which includes research updates and more.
For those who are particularly keen to dig into the scientific research details, several journals can be accessed online that offer keyword search capability to read abstracts about the latest in tree fruit research. These include the journals HortScience, HortTechnology, Journal of the American Pomological Society and Acta Horticulturae. The latter is the journal for the International Society for Horticultural Science where full articles can be downloaded for a fee if desired.
As noted already, there are several excellent university websites that offer considerable regionally specific, unbiased, research-based tree fruit content. To name a few, these include sites at UC-Davis, Oregon State, Cornell, Michigan State, Penn State and Clemson.
WSU’s New Site
In my July, 2014 column, I shared information about Washington State University’s creation of a new online “one-stop-shop” for tree fruit information. By the time this column is published, the site will be nearly complete and in a grower usability-testing phase just prior to launch by summer. This new website is designed with the grower/industry visitor in mind, and it includes several specific ways to access information in as few clicks as possible. First, the site includes a traditional topical navigation where information is arranged by broad, main categories (e.g., About, Varieties and Breeding, Crop Protection, Orchard Management, Postharvest, Economics, Education & Training, and Tools & Resources).
Nested underneath each topical category are numerous, related sub-categories. Second, the site will offer the feature to choose a “crop-specific” landing page which will filter all of the website content to include only the specific crop you are looking for (e.g., apple, pear, sweet cherry, or “other” stone fruit peach, apricot, plum). Third, we have taken advantage of the Google search engine to enable the site visitor to use keyword directed searches within the site with five different search filters. These include tree fruit content from: Washington State University; other land-grant universities (as noted above); trade journal articles from magazines (as noted above); final research reports from the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission; and technical articles from scientific journals (as noted above).
A prominent feature of the site will be educational videos. These include expert presentations, interviews, field day reports, program highlights, “how-tos”, etc. Presently, these videos are archived directly on YouTube at the “WSU CAHNRS” channel in the WSU Tree Fruit playlist.
Finally, I would like to encourage you to make lifelong learning a goal that you pursue. I know it is somewhat frustrating to suffer from “information overload.” However, find a few good sources to peruse regularly. As time and opportunity present themselves, broaden your gaze. You might even consider visiting another state or country to see new things first hand.