Good Fruit Grower

May 1

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Optimizing Production RAISING fruiting walls S ince coming to Cornell University almost 30 years ago with a fresh doctorate from Washington State University, Dr. Terence Robinson has led the Cornell horticultural department's efforts to improve the competitive position of New York State's fruit growers. In large part that has meant encouraging them to plant at ever-higher tree densities, and growers have responded. "There has been a steady increase in tree planting density from 40 trees per acre to, in some cases, more than 3,000 trees per acre," Robinson said. Now, he says, it's time for the next move: Put the rows 12 feet apart, about two feet closer than the current standard, maintain the trees in fruiting walls about four feet thick at the bottom and two feet at the top by using sicklebar hedging in early summer, and use orchard platforms in virtually all operations, including harvest. Work from the tall spindle or super spindle design. By doing that, growers can raise their potential yields another 10 percent and shoot for 3,300 bushels of cumulative yield at the end of the fifth leaf, and reduce their labor costs substantially—more than 40 percent. The hedging operation, which he calls sidewall shearing, needs to be done about the first week of July, every year, and will reduce the need for dormant pruning from annually to one year in three and eliminate all manual summer pruning. This is the next step for eastern apple growers as they prepare orchards for the future. Fruiting wall by Richard Lehnert Robinson moved swiftly toward testing the fruiting wall approach after after seeing the concepts that were being developed in Italy in 2010. There, he saw the work of Alberto Dorigoni, a researcher at the Istituto Agrario (Agricultural Institute) of San Michele all'Adige, in the Tyrol region of northern Italy. In 2012, working with Dr. Steve Hoying and Mario Miranda Sazo, he set up mechanical shearing trials at four growers' farms and the Geneva Experiment Station. They purchased a hedger built by Dan LaGasse at LaGasse Iron Works in Lyons, New York. Dorigoni had found that summer hedging resulted in modest regrowth and the formation of a flower bud at each cut tip. With a profusion of flowering the next year, he used the Darwin string thinner to thin the apples. He found it worked well, since the In his report at Producers Expo, Robinson said that strings reached into the short branches on the narrow fruiting wall. summer sidewall shearing was fast and left the trees with The Cornell shearings last summer were conducted on June 1, July 1, and August 1, on a "manicured" look. It required only 5 percent of the cost Fuji, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, and Gala varieties, all on Malling 9 rootstocks. On all of and time of manual summer pruning. the those dates, the shears cut about a quarter to a third of all shoots. When the sidewall shearing was done at The hedger cut off about 5 percent of the apples, bloom, some flowers were cut off, but the Robinson said, a higher percentage (about 8.5 percent) in growers viewed it as a dormant pruning. the earliest hedging and less (about 3.8 percent) in the When the sidewall shearing was done in later shearing, but not a significant amount. June, July, or August, some fruits were cut Shoot regrowth was greater in the earliest shearing, an off, and the growers were more concerned. average of about 8 inches, compared with about 5 inches Fruit counts showed that the number of in July, and no regrowth in August. Robinson said the July fruits cut off was 3 to 8 percent and would 1 date looks the best. be no more than the number dropped to Robinson's enthusiasm for the new concept is evident. the ground when hand thinning, he He spoke about it at the Producers Expo in New York in reported. January and at the International Fruit Tree Association —Terence Robinson conference in Boston in February, and he showed the Light results to IFTA visitors at the Crist Brothers Orchard in Marlboro, New York, one of the Measurements of light exposure showed that the sumfour grower demonstration sites. He also included it in the Precision Management mer sidewall shearing improved light intensity in the Summit in Geneva in March. lower part of the canopy by about 10 percent. "Anybody who plants in rows wider than 12 feet deserves a kick in the butt," Robinson "In the trees we used in these studies, the canopies told growers at the summit, though he concedes that some orchards may have side hills were already quite well-shaped for good light distributoo steep for machinery to maneuver. "Between-row spacing should be 11 to 12 feet on tion, and the shearing removed only a small portion of level ground and 12 to 13 feet on slopes," he said. "Anybody who plants in rows wider than 12 feet deserves a kick in the butt." 24 May 1, 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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