Good Fruit Grower

September 2012

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THE CLUBS of Quebec Apple growers in this Canadian province are tightly organized. by Richard Lehnert pple growers in Canada's Quebec Province march to the beat of a different drummer. They are much more tightly organized than are growers in the United States. At the provincial level, all apple growers must be members of the Federation of Apple Growers of Quebec (see "Apple growers union gives market power to Quebec growers"),which bargains with buyers and estab- lishes minimum prices. At the local level, they are organ- ized into eight clubs of 20 to 70 producers each, who share the services of professional technical consultants. United States growers would probably chafe a bit at the discipline of it, because some of the advice sounds like orders from higher up. Quebec growers use inte- grated fruit production practices that have a strong envi- ronmental component. Use of fertilizer, for example, is tightly controlled. The Quebec growers seem proud of their industry and pleased to be part of it. When the International Fruit Tree Association held its annual study tour in the Montreal area in late July, more than 180 apple growers were there to tour some 15 orchards and a research facility. Producer clubs At one of those stops—the farm of brothers Gérald and Paul Lussier near Rockburn—professional agronomist Natalie Tanguay explained the operation of her growers' club, the Agricultural Producers Club of the Southwest, located in St. Martine. It is one of five clubs covering pro- duction regions south of Montreal, the region called Montérégie. The club is 20 years old, and she has been its agronomist for 18 years. The Lussiers are members of her club. 10 SEPTEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Paul and Gerald Lessier have about 100 acres of apples and are part of the apple club that hired Natalie Tanguay 18 years ago. Despite good advice, they make some mistakes—like putting Honeycrisp on this B.118 rootstock. They've been fighting to control its vigor ever since and asked IFTA tour members for some helpful advice. Canada has no national system to disseminate agricul- tural information like the U.S. land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension Service, she said. On the other hand, growers don't rely on chemical company representatives for scouting services and pest control recommendations either. There is an organized system in Quebec so that research gets done, production and marketing problems are addressed, and growers receive high quality scientific information. Tanguay works closely with her 20 growers. She visits each of them every week, acting as an orchard scout and advisor. "We give individualized advice on pest control, pruning, thinning, maturity, and storage," she said. "We do all the maturity tests for individual producers." There are Ministry of Agriculture agronomists who support local agronomists who make recommendations for the growers. These are more specialized people like Vincent Philion, a plant pathologist who does research and provides expert advice on diseases like fireblight and apple scab, both of which put heavy pressure on Quebec apple growers. Philion was a key resource on the tour, explaining what growers were doing, interpreting from the French language when needed. Only about two- thirds of the farmers on the tour spoke both French and English. Natalie Tanguay is the agronomist for a club of apple producers who employ her to advise on production issues. One of Tanguay's jobs is to keep a close eye on the nutritional status of grower orchards. The agronomés work to "assure the protection of the public," she said. There is a heavy emphasis on environmental stewardship in the province. There are strict regulations in place on fertilizer use, and farmers can only buy the recom- mended amount. Each farm has a plan that includes an amount of fertilizer they are allowed to purchase, "avoid- ing excessive amounts that would be harmful to the environment," she said. These farm plans are sometimes developed with the help of private consultants. Growers pay for these services. Tim Petch, another grower whose farm was visited on the tour, said fees must be paid by all growers who are part of the club system, and any apple grower with five hectares or more had to be part of a club. Fees in his club start at about $700 a year for basic services, with additional fees for some additional services, he said. But each club is private, sets its own fees, and hires its own agronomist. Tanguay said that when the club system started, grow- ers paid about 30 percent of the cost, and now pay about Photos by richard lehnert

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