Good Fruit Grower

October 2015

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28 OCTOBER 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER F ruit growers from north central Washington who visited the state of Issyk-Kul in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan have been struck by the geographic similarities of the two regions. Issyk-Kul has a large lake resembling Lake Chelan surrounded by high mountains. It has a dry climate and a reputation for growing quality tree fruits, such as apples, cherries, pears, and apricots. But there are striking differences. While the Washington tree fruit industry has been growing and thriving, Kyrgyz growers struggle because of lack of infra- structure, capital, and knowledge. Tree fruit grower Randy Smith of Cashmere, Washington, has visited the country three times and helped host several visits of Kyrgyz officials to Washington State. Most of the orchards in Kyrgyzstan, which was part of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) until 1991, used to be state-run cooperatives, and are in poor condi- tion. Smith said the country is still trying to deal with the questions of land ownership and property rights. "The reason they don't have money for investment from outside sources is primarily because outside inves- tors are skeptical," Smith said. "Who owns the land and property rights? All this has to be addressed before there's going to be anybody willing to put chunks of money into that country." Farming A large proportion of the population is focused on subsistence farming. The government has designated the Issyk-Kul region as environmentally sensitive, so organic products must be used in place of synthetic pesticides. Issyk-Kul produces more fruit than it can consume, so growers sell some fruit to neighboring countries, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Almaty, the capital city of Kazakhstan, with a population of 2 million people, is only 60 miles to the north, but it takes seven hours to drive there. A shorter route is closed because of border issues. Much of the fruit goes to St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia. There are no packing houses or cold storage rooms in Issyk-Kul, so at harvest time Russian truck drivers pull up at the orchards with refrigerated trucks full of empty boxes. Growers load their fruit and are paid Faraway regions form a growing relationship Apples PHOTOS COURTESY OF RANDY SMITH Cashmere, Washington, orchardist Jim Koempel chats with Raisa Tologonova, an influential orchardist, breeder, and nursery owner in the Kyrgyz state of Issyk-Kul, who will be key in efforts to revive the region's tree fruit industry. A Washington county and a state in Kyrgyzstan have become sister regions with goal of reviving the Kyrgyz tree fruit industry. by Geraldine Warner

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