December 2, 2011
Lawrence fruit farmer honored,
earns Michigan Farm Bureau's highest award
Wallace E. Heuser, of Lawrence, is the recipient
of Michigan Farm Bureau's 2011 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award.
The award, Michigan Farm Bureau's highest honor, was
announced during a Dec. 1 ceremony at the group's 92nd annual meeting in
"Hundreds of people can list Wally Heuser's
contributions to the fruit industry," said MFB President Wayne H.
Wood, according to a news release issued by the organization.
"Every person he influenced felt his genuine, personal
interest in them - not just as fellow fruit growers but as human beings."
Michigan Farm Bureau President Wayne H. Wood, left, applauds Wallace E.
the 2011 recipient of the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award,
MFB's highest honor.
Heuser has introduced
nearly 100 new apple varieties, including patented Golden Delicious, Red
Delicious and Paulared varieties. Heuser has also traveled the globe to
promote the value of high-quality, high-efficiency fruit production.
"I know of no other individual who has so greatly
influenced the present commercial tree fruit industry," said Jerome Hull,
professor emeritus in the horticulture department at Michigan State
Heuser grew up on a fruit farm in Hartford and earned a
degree in pomology from MSU, where he led his student pomster club to
install a refrigerated apple vending machine in the horticulture building.
"Dwarf trees were just an idea a college department
head had," recalled MSU classmate Paul Rood, "but Wally took hold of it,
grew dwarf trees and helped the whole industry change. It was a radical
idea, but he recognized the possibilities. And when he concentrated on being
a nurseryman, everything he propagated was made better."
Heuser's foresight into the movement toward smaller
fruit trees led to the creation of the International Dwarf Fruit Tree
Association, now known as the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA),
of which he was founding president.
Heuser is an equally strong supporter and innovator in
the sweet and tart cherry industries.
At his family farm, Hilltop Orchards and Nurseries, he
was responsible for dramatically increasing the farm's acreage, adding a
state-of-the-art packing house, and making other technological improvements.
Traverse City Record
June 29, 2011
Wallace E. Heuser is Cherry Industry ‘Person of the Year’
Wallace E. Heuser is a recognized worldwide authority on deciduous fruit
varieties, rootstocks and orchard management systems. He has a strong sales
background, ability to create and articulate complete and original
presentations. Wally has demonstrated quality and excellence in addressing
unusual problems and making opportunities of them. He is internationally
recognized horticulturist, nurseryman, innovator, and marketing specialist.
From 1989 to the present, Heuser has served as the
President of Summit Sales, Inc, and International Plant Management, Inc.
Summit Sales represents quality nurseries worldwide
providing both horticultural knowledge and variety and rootstock selection
as a service to commercial fruit growers. International Plant Management has
extensive worldwide contacts and recognition. Currently, 40 new varieties
have been introduced with over 100 in test.
Recipient of the
Wilder Medal from the American Pomological Society for fruit variety
Recipient of the
Michigan State University Distinguished Service Award for Agriculture.
First President of the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association.
Centennial Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan State
Michigan State Horticultural Society.
Outstanding Service Award from the International Dwarf Fruit Tree
Association. Director and Past
President of the National Peach Council.
President, and Member of the Michigan Peach Sponsors.
Recipient of the
Fruit Man of the Year Award, Michigan Association of Pomsters.
Recipient of the
first Hall of Fame Award, International Fruit Tree Association.
University, John Hannah Society.
|Fruit Growers News Magazine
Saturday, Apr. 7, 2007
IFTA helped growers bring fruit trees
down to size
On March 5, the
International Fruit Tree Association observed its 50th birthday – marking
a half-century of fruit growers working together to bring trees down to
Logically, such an organization should have been born
in Europe, probably in England. But the IFTA was born in Michigan, in the
United States, and was at first all about dwarfing rootstocks for apples.
Very successful, IFTA became worldwide in influence and broader in scope
than apples and rootstocks.
For 400 years, the Europeans have known the character
of apple trees was affected by the root as well as by the wood.
Wood makes the variety, so scions need to be grafted if
varieties are to be perpetuated. The ancient Romans knew that. But the
Europeans also gradually learned that rootstock affects tree size, vigor,
pest resistance, hardiness and to some degree fruit quality, and clonal
rootstocks were selected and used in some parts of Europe.
In the United States, the Johnny Appleseed concept –
growing an apple from a planted seed – persisted much longer. Varieties
and grafting became important as people ate more apples fresh and less as
cider, and dwarfing rootstocks took even longer to catch on.
After World War II, U.S. apple growers gradually began
to realize that size-controlling rootstocks could affect the way they
managed their orchards. Choosing the right rootstock became important, as
well as choosing the right variety to graft it to.
That realization has dominated apple orchard management
for the last 50 years.
It resulted in the taming of the trees.
The Dwarf Fruit Tree Association played a key role in
spreading rootstock knowledge around the world. It was so successful that,
in 1968, it added “national” to its name, and then “international” and,
two years ago, it dropped the word “dwarf.” Apple trees, for all intents
and purposes, were all dwarf.
As Wally Heuser
tells the story, it’s hard to believe that only 50 years ago apple
trees were typically planted on 30- by 30-and 40-by 40-foot spacings, 21
to 48 trees per acre. Any apple seed would do. Plant a seed, graft a
suitable variety onto the seedling. The trees were vigorous and big.
Today, orchard designers are considered conservative if
they think in terms of 500 trees per acre; more radical designers use
1,000, even 2,000.
The Europeans began using rootstocks to influence apple
tree size, vigor and pest resistance early on, Heuser said, but it wasn’t
until the 1920s that an Englishman, Ronald G. Hatton, working at the
research station at East Malling near London, began to collect the
different rootstocks from apple-producing areas across Europe. These
rootstocks, like scion varieties, were collected and propagated as clones
from established trees.
Hatton numbered them, in no particular order. These
became the East Malling series, named with Roman numerals from I through
XVI. And he began to catalog their characteristics. Only some of them were
A few Americans saw what was happening and became
intrigued. One of these was Harold B. Tukey, a world traveler who worked
at the Cornell agricultural research station in Geneva, New York. He
brought the 16 Malling rootstocks to the United States and began to spread
them to other researchers. In the 1940s, he became a professor of
horticulture at Michigan State University and its department chairman.
At MSU, one of Tukey’s associates was Robert Carlson
and one of his students was Wallace Heuser. They became similarly
enthralled by the controlling power of rootstocks and by the compelling
message of their mentor.
Quite important as well, the Heuser family had a fruit
farm, Hilltop Orchards and Nurseries near Hartford, Mich., and when Wally
graduated in 1950 and went back to the farm, he had a place to try some of
the things he learned at school.
At Hilltop during the 1950s, the Heusers planted the
first commercial apple orchards on dwarfing rootstocks. Hilltop was both a
producing orchard and a business that sold grafted nursery stock, so the
farm had a dual desire to use better trees – and convince other growers to
“They used to call me ‘three in a hole’ because I was
planting so close,” Heuser said. “And of course I was accused of just
wanting to sell more trees. I used our orchard as a laboratory.”
The key players surrounding the birth of IFTA were Joe
Mandigo, a district Extension horticulture agent who wanted to show
growers what dwarf apple trees looked like and how they should be pruned;
Wally Heuser, whose family had such an orchard and an empty apple storage
in which to hold a meeting; and Tukey and Carlson, the professors from MSU.
Instead of attracting 70 to 100 people, as expected,
300 came to the demonstration, not just from Michigan but from other
states as well.
Tukey suggested the event become an annual affair, and
he “volunteered” the services of his associate, Bob Carlson, to lead the
formation of an organization. Carlson called a meeting of leading Michigan
fruit growers, who became the governing body of the Dwarf Fruit Tree
Association. Carlson stayed on as secretary, a position he held until
1986. Heuser was named the first president, a position he held for three
One of Carlson’s early endeavors was a newsletter that,
Heuser said, became “a piece of glue that held the new organization
together in the early years.”
In 1994, Carlson wrote a history of IFTA. In 1968, he
said, it added the word “national” to its name, and in 1974 changed that
to “international,” two changes reflecting the explosive growth of
interest in smaller trees on closer spacing that was occurring in those
“During the past 40 years, the fruit industry in the
U.S.A. and in other parts of the world has gone through revolutionary
changes cause by decreased labor, increased land values and changing
marketing systems,” Carlson wrote. “To stay in business the fruit grower
had to (1) update his equipment, (2) increase his acreage in some cases,
(3) remove unproductive standard trees, (4) change his planting schemes to
increase acreage yields and (5) decide what new varieties and
variety/rootstock combinations to plant.
“IDFTA-sponsored activities have helped growers cope
with these changes.”
IFTA continues to sponsor annual meetings and tours. In
the last few years, growers have visited Italy, China, Mexico and
Tukey wrote, in one of the early newsletters that
started in the first year of the organization, “Let everyone make his
observations and bring them to the association for dissemination and
discussion. In this way, we will shake the bugs out of the dwarf fruit
tree, find where they belong and how to handle them. The formation of the
DFTA could prove to be one of the important steps in the development of
the fruit industry.”
“The Dwarf Fruit Tree Association was born out of a
need for information,” Carlson wrote. “It grew because it provided
practical growing and orchard management hints and because it came up with
interesting annual meetings and tours in which everyone played a part.
“It became very evident 30 years ago that 40 trees per
acre was no longer practical because the trees were not precocious (and
were) difficult to prune, spray and harvest. Thus, enthusiasm for dwarf
and semi-dwarf trees increased as more information became available.”
“It just sorta grew,” Heuser said. “We didn’t know how
to handle dwarf trees and we made a lot of mistakes. But we learned from
our mistakes and marched forward.”
Right from the start, dwarfing rootstocks had
weaknesses, he said. Most of the rootstocks in the EM series were
susceptible to woolly apple aphid. In England that was not a problem, but
it was a problem “in the colonies,” in the warmer climates of Australia
and New Zealand. That led to crossbreeding work at the English research
station at Merton and the development of the Merton-Malling rootstock
crosses that include MM 106 and MM 111.
It took 30 years before M 9 began to catch on, Heuser
said. Of the 16 Malling stocks, M 8 was the smallest and M 9 next in size
– and both needed support. That held growers back at first, he said. Dick
Norton at Cornell was an early proponent of high-density plantings and the
trellis systems needed to support them.
“Elaborate trellises didn’t fly,” Heuser said. “Grower
ingenuity came into play. Growers use simple trellises now, single or
maybe double wire.”
Other trends also “slipped by the wayside” over the
years, Heuser said.
Interstems work but they are expensive and take another
year to grow, so they aren’t much used, he said. Bed systems were tried,
with double and triple rows of trees. But they had problems with light
penetration and weed control, and apple orchards remain single rows of
trees, even if the rows are closer and the space between trees is close.
Apples were the “first and only focus” for dwarfing
work at first, Heuser said. There was only limited success with stone
fruits until work by Werner Gruppe and his colleagues at Giessen
University in Germany led to development of the Gisela rootstocks for
sweet cherries. Heuser played a big part in evaluating them and bringing
them to the United States. Growers on IFTA tours now take as much interest
in cherries on dwarfing rootstocks as they initially did in apples on
“I first heard of them in the mid-70s,” he said.
He traveled repeatedly to Germany and brought the
Gisela rootstocks to the United States in 1979. They are gradually finding
Heuser believes better things are yet to come. Just as
dwarfing rootstocks are now fully accepted for apples, they will shape
fruit trees of all kinds in the future. Tart cherries have resisted dwarf
rootstocks, but Heuser points to the work by MSU cherry breeder Amy
Iezzoni as promising.
If dwarfing rootstocks can reduce tart cherry trees to
bush size, he said, less invasive harvesting methods might be applied.
These are being developed by MSU horticulturist Jim Flore and USDA
researcher Donald Peterson and others. “Shaking the bush” like a blueberry
rather than shaking the tree could result in longer tree life and use of
smaller, less expensive equipment in managing the orchard.
With IFTA firmly in place, Heuser believes, the
mechanism is there to find, test and bring new ideas into commercial
orchards. He has no doubts IFTA will organize lots of gatherings in fruit
orchards in the future. He’s proud of the part he played in starting that
More proof that when something needs to
be done right . . . count on a Hartford Grad!
Wally is a
Hartford High School