UI Parma Fruit Field Day showcases research

Art and Setsuko Church, who are seeking new varieties for the small-scale fruit operation they run in Weiser, Idaho, had plenty to look at Sept. 7 during the Fruit Field Day the University of Idaho hosted at its pomology orchard and vineyard north of the Parma Research and Extension Center.

Hundreds of people turn out each year at the event to learn about new pomology practices and to sample that many fruits.

Art Church said he’s interested in adding just about any stone fruit that grows well in southwestern Idaho and southeastern Oregon, but especially new cultivars. He’s also interested in pistachios.

He is encouraged by what he has seen of this year’s harvest, now in the late stages. He and Setsuko as of early September continued to harvest melons and had completed stone-fruit harvest.

“It has been a very good year,” Art Church said. Peaches, nectarines and melons look good. Compared to last year, they’re bigger and lack winter damage.

Jerry Henggeler of Henggeler Packing Co. in Fruitland, Idaho, said there was some excess heat this year, “but for the most part, we had very food volume and very good-quality crops.”

Freezes this year were mostly minor, said Henggeler, past president of the Idaho-Oregon Fruit & Vegetable Association.

“We were hit early in apricot and cherry crops,” he said. Those first-blooming crops ended up short in volume, but all others this season fared well — including peaches (many varieties), plums, pears, apples and nectarines.

Harvest weather has been good so far, without inclement days to slow work, Henggeler said.

A shortage of labor is becoming a serious problem, he said. Mechanization is growing in orchards and packing plants.

Essie Fallahi, UI pomology program director, said horticulture is increasingly important as the world’s population grows.

Scientists, through their own work and in collaboration with peers in different areas, aim to help growers produce high-quality food in greater volumes at a lower labor cost, he said.

High-density orchards are producing larger fruit of better quality, and using less land and water, due in part to UI-pioneered irrigation advances that apply precise amounts of water a tree needs, Fallahi said. Onions, hops and other crops also are thriving with help from this system, which is efficient and cuts chemical leaching into groundwater.

Fruit Field Day showcased current research and production advancements; work on the best rootstocks for apples, peaches and nectarines most suitable for the region; tree and fruit irrigation, nutrition and pest management; orchard and canopy research; and alternative crops such as quince, almond, walnut, jujube and haskap.

Fifth-grade students at Parma Middle School attended.

“It’s a good introduction for the kids to the resources we have,” math teacher Brian Hutton said.

The Idaho town of more than 2,000 is home to many farms and agricultural businesses.