UI conference brings heritage orchard efforts together

A University of Idaho conference will bring together experts from around the region in an effort to revive heritage fruit varieties.

The Heritage Orchard Conference will begin at 9 a.m. May 31 at the university’s Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center.

Many institutions in the Northwest have a small orchard of heritage fruit, said Kyle Nagy, superintendent and orchard operations manager at the center.

“Everybody seems to be doing something a little bit different, with different goals,” Nagy said. “We’re looking to … see what we can all collaborate on in the future.”

The university received the 66-acre center as a donation in 2018.

“We’re kind of looking for how we can help with other programs and collaborate with goals they have already set out,” Nagy said.

The agenda includes presentations from the Lost Apple Project, the Boundary County Orchard Restoration Project, the Wyoming Apple Project and the Montana Heritage Orchard Program.

Demand for heritage and heirloom apple varieties has increased in recent years, largely driven by a growing interest in hard cider, Nagy said. Many hard ciders need a cider-specific variety, most of which are heritage fruits, he said.

“A lot of these old varieties were bred in a time when they were really looking for hard cider varieties,” he said. “Back when potable water was maybe something that was a little harder to come by, a lot of people were drinking cider as their hydration. Being fermented like that, it’s going to be safer for everybody to drink.”

Nagy estimates the conference will have about 75 participants.

The conference may move to other locations in future years, Nagy said.

Nagy hopes to spread the word about heritage varieties to home orchardists and home gardeners, beyond the few modern cultivars available to them.

“There’s just so many neat apples out there that people have never heard of,” he said.