Good Fruit Grower

December 2012

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who was studying for his master's degree in economics at Michigan State University and who, for his thesis, was investigating the economic aspects of converting tart cherry orchards to over-the-row harvest. McManus is developing a decision model for growers. For some years, Engle has been trying to improve the profitability of tart cherries by increasing the planting density. Because trunk shakers and inclined planes take a lot of space in which to operate, the typical planting is 20 by 20 feet or even 22 by 22, he said. Something different In trying to achieve something different, he created a new style planting using a 42-inch tree spade that he owns and could afford to use for the purpose. He tripled the density of an existing planting, which was originally done with trees spaced 16 feet apart in 18-foot rows. Using the spade, he dug trees and planted them in the rows between existing trees. Convinced he was onto something, he followed that up by planting 5,000 trees last year and 8,000 trees this year using a tree planter and a spacing of five feet apart in 12-foot rows—for a density of 700 trees per acre, about six times the normal density. He planted the standard variety—Montmorency, on the standard rootstock—Mahaleb. "Rather than waiting for the right rootstocks, we went ahead," he said. "Tart cherry trees aren't all that large, so we don't really need dwarfing rootstocks." His plan is to keep them to a tall spindle design, about 10 feet tall and narrow, with limbs about two and a half feet long. He already grows apples in the tall spindle design, and thinks the training and pruning rules for tall spindle apples will work for cherries as well. In addition, the practice of hedging tart cherries is well established and can be used to shape the trees to fit the berry har- vester. "I have yet to build the harvester," he said, "but I'll need it in 2014." Tree spades have been used by other growers to move tart cherry trees; one moved an entire orchard from a site slated for development to a new area. Conceivably, that technology can be used to keep orchards productive longer by replacing lost trees. If the Montmorency trees grow too vigorously even as he tries to keep canopy vigor under control, Engle leaves himself an alternative of using the spade to remove every other tree if they get too crowded by, say, the tenth growing season. Engle noted that growers work hard to keep trunk damage low by lubricating the pads that clamp onto the trees and using well-trained operators. Still, the trunk shakers can crush trunk tissue, split trunks, slip bark, and invite the onset of damage by canker-causing diseases and borers. But the chief problem is time. In his new plantings, Engle hopes to fill the space in year three or four, com- pared to six and seven in conventional plantings, and start harvest in the third year, instead of the sixth. "Growers of traditional trunk-shaking orchards actu- ally try to avoid early harvest by using gibberellic acid to knock fruit off up to year six so that they can avoid injury harvesting trees five years or less in age," Perry said. "Therefore, a traditional tart cherry orchard of 22 years in age at the average end of its productive life actually is harvested for only 16 or 17 years. Our over-the-row approach allows trees to be harvested without fear of sig- nificant tree trunk injury from the year three, when most first come into bearing." And it's faster. Perry estimates it takes only about ten seconds to harvest a tree with over-the-row harvest. • To Our Dealership Family Low Hour Rent Welcomes Starting at Only 27,550 Hour Rentaal Returns $ $ ABERDEEN CHEHALIS ELLENSBURG LYNDEN OKANOGAN POULSBO OLYMPIA QUINCY SUMNER 28 DECEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Ron Perry, left, and Belding grower George Wright tried over-the-row harvest on Wright's Montmorency orchard using the BEI 9000. CourteSy of ron Perry

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