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IFTA Group Photo
Kelowna grower Hank Markgraf (right) and the organizing committee for the IFTA conference pose with their impromptu 'Olympic' medals, made of valuable Canadian Loonies.
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© Barbara Helgason | Dreamstime.com
Orchard in Osoyoos
The organizers of the 2014 International Fruit Tree Association Conference in Kelowna won a little 'Olympic glory' in February, as participants awarded them some gold medals made of Canadian Loonies.
"This may not be the Olympics, but you deserve some Olympic Gold!" shouted one out-of-town delegates as the organizers got the medals hung around their necks. "I don't know if it's real gold, but it's worth some real money," cracked another. "Almost a buck apiece down in the States!"
While the organizers enjoyed their well-earned Loonie medals, IFTA board member Phil Schwallier was singing the praises of the local organizing committee. Schwallier is a grower, but is also the district horticultural agent for Michigan State University, and attends similar conferences on a regular basis.
"This is one of the greatest conferences I have ever been to in my entire life," said Schwallier. "Not only were the stops on our tours wonderful, all our educational talks were wonderful, and most importantly the people were absolutely wonderful.
"Canada is just a great place to visit!"
In fact, this year's conference may have set a record for attendance. The IFTA usually attracts about 275 growers every year, and sometimes up to 300, but this year's conference at the Delta Grand saw approximately 325 attendees.
Hank Markgraf, chair of the 2014 Program Committee, says it was gratifying to see the packed halls during the weeklong conference.
"You are always cautious when you put a program together," Markgraf said. "You hope it's going to be good for the speakers and good for the audience, but y'know, Monday was packed, standing room only, and today is a little bit less, but that's okay, you expect that on the third day."
Markgraf is a local grower, works for the BC Tree Fruits Co-op, and is the Research chair at the BC Cherry Association. Before the conference he said his greatest goal was to get more local growers to the conference.
"We are up around the 325 mark this year and that's because we had so many late registrations from local growers," Markgraf said. "These are the guys we really wanted to get interested in this event, and that's great because that is also building up the membership of the IFTA."
Schwallier said the attraction for local growers was in the high calibre of speakers at this year's event.
"The IFTA is flat out the best tree fruit conference in the world," he said. "This year they first they got the cutting edge researchers out from all over the world, and second, attendees get to meet the great local people here, and learn and develop new friendships that last for a lifetime."
Schwallier says the conference was equally successful for out of town delegates, particularly due to the orchard tours that make up a big part of the conference agenda. Unlike many conferences, at the IFTA delegates get out on the road and will visit local orchards. This year tours were set up from the North Okanagan all the way down to central Washington State.
Schwallier says it was an eye-opening experience for many of the out-of-town orchardists.
"To see the quality of the orchards that are grown here has been my biggest takeaway from the whole conference," says Schwallier. "BC, Canada has long been a leader in high-density apple production and the growers I've met here have been absolutely exceptional.
"I mean, Michigan has a good reputation and we are the number three apple producing state, but we can always learn new things, and this has been a very good place to learn." ■