By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
PARMA – Several hundred people were given a taste for some of the extensive fruit research being conducted at University of Idaho’s Parma Research and Extension Center Sept. 7 during the station’s annual Fruit Field Day.
Attendees also got a literal taste of many of the fruit varieties being researched at the Parma station’s pomology orchard and vineyard site.
Dozens of fruit varieties were laid out on several long tables and included peaches, table grapes, nectarines, plums, apples, quince, Asian pears and several alternative fruits being grown at the orchard.
Once the OK was given to begin tasting the fruit, it didn’t last long.
Fruit researcher Essie Fallahi, who heads UI’s pomology (fruit and nut) program, told attendees that the difference between night and day time temperatures in the summer makes the region a great place to grow fruit.
“The quality of fruit grown in Idaho is superb,” he said. “Idaho fruit is demanded by name in many countries.”
Fallahi recalled a conversation with an official from one major fruit company who told him, “Our shippers don’t want anything but plums from Idaho.”
The annual event is attended by hundreds of commercial and small growers as well as home gardeners, horticultural professionals, fruit industry representatives and graduate students.
“The Parma fruit day is a tremendous event for the Treasure Valley but it also draws folks from all over the state as well as other states interested in tree fruit production,” said Mark McGuire, director of UI’s agricultural research stations. “They are here to get more knowledge.”
During the four-hour event, Fallahi spoke about the wide variety of research being conducted at the orchard, including orchard mechanization and irrigation trials as well as pest and disease control, the safe use and effectiveness of certain pesticides and new architectures and rootstocks.
The main goal of the research, he said, is to not only figure out the best way to grow certain fruit varieties in the state, but also to figure out what doesn’t work so growers don’t have to discover that for themselves.
“If we make the mistake first, then the growers will not have to make that mistake,” he said.
A lot of varieties turn out to be garbage, he said, “and we do that research because we don’t want growers to have to test for themselves.”
Chad Henggeler, field manager for Henggeler Packing Co. in Fruitland, one of Idaho’s largest fruit companies, said Fallahi’s research is helpful to growers because it enables them to not waste time and money on varieties that don’t perform well under Idaho’s growing conditions.
“It basically keeps us from going out and making a big costly mistake,” he said.
“It takes a lot of capital and investment to put in an orchard,” said Williamson Orchards and Vineyards Manager Michael Williamson. “So the research done there saves us some of the expense and risk.”
The Parma station’s orchard trial is also researching several alternative fruits and nuts to see if they can be grown economically in Idaho. Those include walnuts, almonds, quince, Asian pears, jujube and haskap.
Fallahi said he first listens to the needs of the public and commercial growers and then designs his research projects to address those issues.
Fallahi is always innovating “to try to bring in new varieties or new crops and he’s also looking at how best to raise them in Idaho’s climate,” McGuire said. “The work done here is really a benefit to Idaho agriculture.”
While fruit is not one of Idaho’s main farm commodities in terms of total farm-gate revenue, it does generate tens of millions of dollars of farm cash receipts each year and the industry is particularly important in some parts of southwestern Idaho.
According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Idaho growers produced 54 million pounds of apples this year and 6 million pounds of peaches.
According to the Idaho Wine Commission, the state’s wine industry has an economic impact to the state of $169 million annually.
Idaho fruit is shipped to 52 countries.