by Sally Colby
Not long after thousands of reenactors and visitors came to Gettysburg, PA for the 150th anniversary of what many consider the turning point of the Civil War, another group of visitors came to the region for an entirely different reason.
The International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) held its annual Study Tour in Gettyburg and surrounding Adams County. The tour theme, ‘Heritage and Innovation’ was a perfect descriptor for the orchards in the state’s ‘fruit belt’ that have continued to operate through several generations while constantly seeking innovative ways to manage orchards, personnel and families.
Dr. Tara Baugher, Penn State Extension Tree Fruit educator, says the IFTA selected Pennsylvania, and Adams County in particular, because of the research on labor-saving and precision management technology and the number of young growers in the area.
Baugher says that there has been a lot of interest in the Penn State Young Grower Alliance, a coalition of specialty crop growers who organized in 2005 to share ideas and problem-solving strategies. “Two of our young growers — Ben Lerew and Tyler Fetters — went to last year’s study tour in Quebec, Canada and learned how to conduct the tour,” said Baugher. “Catherine Lara, coordinator of the Penn State Young Growers Alliance and Jaja Prozo, Penn State Extension, also went to the study tour in Canada.”
Upon returning, Lerew, Fetters, Lara and Prozo worked together and with other Penn State Extension personnel to plan the event. Growers whose operations were featured on tours were also part of the planning process.
Participants were welcomed to Gettysburg with a farmers market-style reception featuring produce from throughout the state. On day one, participants visited Three Springs Fruit Farm, an operation in business since the 1870s. Over time, the farm has been transitioned from a diversified general farm to one specializing in fruit. Visitors learned about Three Springs’ automated pheromone trap that counts insects and transmits information wirelessly to an on-farm server.
Bear Mountain Orchards, a 1,000 acre operation, focused on mechanical thinning of peaches, transitions in planting systems and the orchard’s packing house equipped with a single-lane Compac line. Family members Joy Cline and John Lott discussed the operation’s product innovations and cooperative partnerships that benefit area growers.
At the 1,000 acre R&L Orchard Co., Mark Rice showed visitors a 25-acre block of Kiku™ Fuji and Ultima Gala planted in a system designed by the Rices to maintain fruit quality while maximizing yield. The Rices also discussed exclusion systems for mammalian pests and the restoration of a historic barn for modern use.
Mary Margaret and Dave Kuhn of Kuhn Orchards shared the story of their successful farm transfer to daughter Sidney. Their transfer strategy involved the services of a consultant along with strategic business planning. Kuhn Orchards grows a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are marketed through metropolitan farmers markets.
Twin Springs Orchards, a leader in developing farmers markets in the Washington, D.C. area, focused on how continual innovation helps keep costs down. One recent development is the farm’s biofuel burner, which uses wood chips to heat the greenhouses.
At Knouse Fruitlands, Inc., visitors were treated to a close look at the farm’s unique and historic round barn. The barn was constructed in 1914 to house livestock, and was converted to a farm market in 1993. Knouse Fruitlands uses GPS-guided planting system to establish new tall spindle plantings.
On the second tour day, participants spent the morning visiting three orchards close to the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center. At Hollabaugh Brothers, Inc., guests learned about the many changes the farm has initiated to keep up with current trends in produce marketing. The Hollabaugh family recently constructed a new market, and host many educational tours throughout the year.
At McCleaf’s Orchard, new-generation orchard owners Corey and Vicky McCleaf talked about diversity and growing methods, with a focus on growing sweet cherries under high tunnels. The McCleafs take advantage of solar power to reduce energy costs for cold storage on the farm.
Adams County Nursery, Inc., owned and operated by fourth and fifth generations of the Baugher family, ship approximately 900,000 trees annually to 3,000 customers. Visitors were particularly interested in the nursery’s automated tree grading system that uses visioning technology to separate trees by caliper and number of feathers.
Following the morning orchard tours, participants gathered at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center for the annual field day. Topics included biology and development of the brown marmorated stink bug, dormant pruning in high density apple systems, labor efficient technology for growing apples and peaches, pesticide resistance, and updates on the spotted wing drosophila.
Optional tours included Knouse Food Cooperative’s Peach Glen Plant where visitors could see the company’s state-of-the-art cherry processing line, and Catoctin Mountain Orchard where Bob Black and his family have developed irrigation for the entire farm. Crops from the thriving orchard are sold in the on-farm farm market.
The IFTA Study Tour drew visitors from seven countries and 25 states. Baugher says she has heard a lot of positive feedback, and that many growers noted it was one of the best-organized tours they had been on.
Sponsors for the 2013 Gettysburg Study Tour include the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania (SHAP), Adams County Fruit Growers Association, Knouse Foods Cooperative Inc., Rice Fruit Company, Adams County Nursery Inc., Knouse Fruitlands Historic Round Barn & Fruit Market, Crop Production Services, Helena Chemical Company, Winfield Solutions, Bear Mountain Orchards, Bream Orchards and El Vista Orchards.
by Sally Colby