Good Fruit Grower

December 2013

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Hort Shows 2013 Orchards of THE FUTURE "We need to grow apples with half the labor we now use." —Terence Robinson A new high-density tall spindle orchard was planted at Thome Orchards this spring. Features include trickle irrigation, feathered trees, four-wire trellis, posts every 30 feet, and bamboo stakes at every tree. Left: Terence Robinson and Phil Schwallier team up to explain summer hedging to a crowd of 200 in Thome Orchards. Robinson takes pride in that his research is driven by growers' needs and that he is driven by data. When he talks to growers, his clearly stated conclusions are supported by data slides documenting results of carefully constructed research projects. One project that turned out to be most important started in 1993. Cornell researchers planted, on the New York farm of Bob and Eric Brown, test plots to look at apple performance under different planting densities—"extremes in density," Robinson said. Birth of tall spindle his year, a keynote address at the Washington State Horticultural Association annual meeting—the Batjer Address—will be given twice, once in English, once in Spanish, by a speaker who is bilingual from birth and speaks flawlessly and passionately in both languages. He is now one of the leading "philosophers" of orchard design in the world. Dr. Terence Robinson, who has been at Cornell University in Geneva, New York, since 1984, will speak about his vision of apple and pear orchards of the future. While Robinson has forged his reputation on the wet side of the American continent, his roots lie in the irrigated orchards of the arid West. He earned both his master's degree and his doctorate from Washington State University. He was born and raised in Casas Grandes, in Mexico's Chihuahua State, on a family fruit farm operated today by his two brothers. It was his mother's influence, he said in an interview with Good Fruit Grower, that sent him off to college after he graduated as high school valedictorian by Richard Lehnert in 1973. On the Cornell Web site, Robinson sums himself up very briefly: "I am an applied fruit crop physiologist. My goal is to solve practical fruit production problems that will increase the profitability and strength of the New York fruit industry and fruit growers around the world. My program is largely field oriented and of an applied nature." T Cornell's Terence Robinson explains his vision of orchard management—in English and in Spanish. 18 DECEMBER 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER The late 1990s were not good years for apple growers, and in 2000, New York apple growers put together a strategic planning group, led by fruit grower George Lamont. The group "assigned Cornell the task," in Robinson's words, of coming up with a production system that would allow the New York apple industry to survive economically. That's when he and his cohorts at Cornell began looking closely at the 1993 plantings. And that led to the birth of the high-density tall spindle system. "It contained ideas from slender spindle, vertical axe, Solaxe, super spindle, all from Europe. We packaged it and put a new name on it in 2002, and we started pushing it in 2003," he said. Since then, adoption of the tall spindle system has grown every year, driven by more and more new data showing its economic superiority. It is being widely adopted in New York, Michigan, the Northeast, and the Mid-Atlantic. It has won enthusiastic supporters among growers and extension educators like Phil Schwallier in Michigan, Mike Fargione in New York, and Jon Clements in Massachusetts. Clements has developed a Web site where anyone can find lectures, PowerPoint presentations, and videos explaining how to grow and manage a tall spindle orchard. In Washington State, thinking remains divided, Robinson said. Stemilt Growers is adopting tall spindle, while others are going with the Auvil-style V-trellis system. Basic elements Robinson and his colleagues continue to revise the basic system. He works closely with Steve Hoying, Mike Fargione, and Alison DeMarree in New York.

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