Good Fruit Grower

December 2011

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Organic proves PRODUCTIVE An English organic grower succeeds, despite climatic challenges. by Geraldine Warner Marden in Kent, showed a group of International Fruit Tree Association members the organic "concept orchard," which he planted in collaboration with the fruit marketer OrchardWorld, Ltd., and Sainsbury's supermarket. Most of the organic apples grown in the United King- P dom are varieties that are tolerant of diseases, such as mildew and scab, but have limited consumer appeal, Hall said. The intention of the concept orchard was to produce organic apple varieties that consumers want, while demonstrating to other growers—conventional as well as organic—how apples can be grown using organic techniques to reduce pesticide and fungicide use. eter Hall planted a ten-acre apple block in his U.K. orchard in 2007 to demonstrate the feasi- bility of growing apples organically in Britain's soggy climate. Hall, who manages a 300-acre farm at The concept orchard includes Gala, Braeburn, and the cooking apple Bramley, which are favorites in the U.K. market, along with the newer varieties Estival, Pinova, and Early Windsor. "Our intention is to grow varieties that people want, within organic standards," he said, "And do it using science and technology, not muck and magic." Hall's Poultry Farm was established in 1894 by his great-grandfather Herbert, who sold chickens. It now has 35 acres of apples in total, of which half are produced organically. The farm also has pears, plums, wine grapes, hops, and wheat. The concept orchard, modeled after Dutch apple- growing systems, has trees on Malling 9 rootstocks that are spaced between 2.5 and 4 feet apart, depending on the variety, with 10.5 feet between rows. It is trickle irrigated. Hall's production goal is 50 bins per acre at maturity in order to minimize per-unit inputs. "One of the biggest problems with organic production traditionally is it's rarely sustainable," he said. "If you get eight bins per acre from a fully mature planting, you're doing well, and much of that will end up in the juice box because of disease." As well as reducing per-unit costs and making growers more competitive, higher production could also increase British growers' share of the organic apples sold in the United Kingdom, which now amounts to only 3 percent. So far, yields for Gala, Braeburn, and Pinova in the con- cept orchard are exceeding those in his conventional blocks. He picked 42, 45, and 52 bins per acre, respectively in 2010, and expected even higher yields this year. "Frankly, we're staggered by that," he said. The only thinning Hall does is to remove fruit dam- aged by codling moth or sunburn (which is rare). His apples are sold in the supermarket in 800-gram (1 pound, 12 ounce) polybags, and with smaller apples it's easier to come close to the required weight. "If the whole crop was 55 to 56 millimeter (2.25 inches) that would suit me down to the ground," he said. "We can prebag them and don't have any give-away." The fruit is certified by the Soil Association, which is the U.K.'s top organic certifier. Hall said he tries to industrialize his practices as much as possible, though certifiers don't like the idea of inten- sive agriculture because they associate it with battery chickens and crated veal. In fact, organic apples fare bet- ter in intensive systems, he said, because predatory insects can move through the crop more easily and spraying is more effective. Scab and mildew He uses sulfur for scab control and potassium bicar- bonate (baking soda) for mildew. He has two electronic weather stations at the farm that relay weather data directly to an advisor in the Netherlands, who runs them through a RIMpro predictive model for scab. When alerted, Hall applies sulfur on alternate rows, then goes back through the other rows with the intention of finishing just before the rain begins. Timing is critical with low-input systems, he said. "I cannot overstress that. If you miss the boat and the scab spores get on the fruit and start to germinate, you're absolutely finished. You will not get scab out once it's in." If the timing is right, crop losses can be minimal, and low-input systems are better for the environment as well as for the grower's bottom line, he said. Costs are reduced, and the value of the crop increases. He noted that maximum allowed residues have dropped almost to the limit of detection, so it's important that growers use systems that minimize the risk of residues on the fruit. Potassium bicarbonate is a good curative product for 48 DECEMBER 2011 GOOD FRUIT GROWER mildew control but must be applied in slow-drying con- ditions, he said. "It's no good putting it on when it's lovely and dry. You might as well stay in bed. We get a lot of that drizzly, mizzly, soggy, disgusting weather here, and that's ideal weather to apply baking soda for mildew control."

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