Growers get hands on learning by touring local orchards during the IFTA Conference in Kelowna.
If you’re an Okanagan orchardist, this year marks a fantastic opportunity for training in new techniques that could increase your crop yield.
The International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) is holding its annual conference in Kelowna this month. Some of the top experts in the world will be here talking about the latest techniques for high-density cultivation.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our local guys to come and learn from the world’s best,” says Hank Markgraf, manager of grower services at BC Tree Fruits. “There is just so much educational stuff going on, it would be great for anyone who wants to increase their yield, produce a better product, or increase their profits.”
The IFTA is the world’s premiere association for tree fruit growers It sponsors ongoing research, organizes global conferences and workshops, and publishes its research in a quarterly magazine.
The IFTA conference has been held in locations throughout the world. Last year it was hosted in Boston, Massachusetts, and the year before in Santiago, Chile.
“To have this conference in Kelowna is a real honour and a real opportunity for our growers,” Markgraf says. “Because it’s here, you don’t have the travel costs you would have if it were held somewhere else, so you’re just paying the conference fees.
“That makes it a great bargain for people who live in the Okanagan.”
While the IFTA moves every year, this is not the first time the IFTA has been held in Kelowna. The region’s reputation for innovation, not to mention its natural beauty, has drawn IFTA delegates back to the Okanagan. It also doesn’t hurt that Markgraf is a serving board member.
“Washington State is one of the leaders in the industry, as are New York and Michigan, and so are we in the Okanagan,” Markgraf says. “So, this is a chance for us to show others what we’ve done to succeed.”
Markgraf says the growing area in BC is relatively small, so BC growers have had to be more innovative in able to compete in the market.
“We are not able to have 200 acre and 500 acre tracts of land,” he says. “We are smaller, so we have to be very intensive in our production.”
The conference itself is also very intensive, starting on Feb. 22 and keeping growers hopping until March 1st. Unlike most conferences, the IFTA organizers combine high-quality workshops with field trips to local orchards.
“We go hardcore,” Markgraf says. “We have intensive workshops on some days, and for the others we get out in the field. We feel you can always learn more by including the hands-on experience, and you can always learn things from the growers, because growers in general are very good at figuring out new solutions to problems.”
The conference sessions start with an intensive short course on cherries on Saturday, Feb. 22, followed by a cherry orchard tour on the 23rd. Feb. 24 and 26 are all-day workshops at the Delta Grand Hotel, while the 25th is an all-day tour of orchards north of Kelowna.
On Feb. 27th delegates will tour orchards in the South Okanagan, and cross the border into Washington State on Feb. 28 and March 1.
For more information on the IFTA workshops and tours, go to: