Good Fruit Grower

December 2012

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Page 46 of 79

Orchard Economics High-density economics lmost 20 years ago, horticulturists at Cornell University set out to develop a bet- ter orchard design and the economic data to show how it performed compared to others. They did demonstrate the benefits of the tall spindle design they developed, and more and more growers are adopting it, and they also found a whole lot of general principles. In a presentation developed by Cornell horticulturists Dr. Terence Robinson and Steve Hoying, with economic analysis provided by Cornell Extension educator Alison DeMarree, they say a successful system: • Produces high yields of high quality fruit • Delivers early returns on capital investment • Economizes on labor input In an interview with Good Fruit Grower,DeMarree said there's no one best orchard design for all growers and all varieties. For a grower producing a new or highly sought after fresh market variety—perhaps a managed variety, that is experiencing high demand and good prices—a system that generates fruit quickly brings apples to a market wanting them now. It makes no sense to wait a few years to fill that demand. "The tall spindle system is the only system we have ever tested that An orchard system that generates high, early yields of the most valuable apples is the most profitable. by Richard Lehnert achieved a cumulative production of over 3,000 bushels in the first five years, resulting in approximately a 40 percent increase in crop value compared to the slender vertical axis and solaxis planting systems," the Cornell researchers report. FIGURE 1 Annual yield of five fruit tree planting systems 1,200 1,000 800 600 200 400 0 15 10 YEAR SOURCE: Terence Robinson, Steve Hoying, and Alison DeMarree, Cornell University 15 Central leader (340 trees/acre) Vertical axis (622 trees/acre) Vertical axis (908 trees/acre) Tall spindle (1,340 trees/acre) Super spindle (2178 trees/acre) Higher costs In high-density systems, trees are planted close enough to fill the space quickly. They use less energy growing trunks, limbs, roots, and branches, and, on dwarfing rootstocks, they use the energy to grow fruit sooner rather than growing wood to support fruit later. High-density systems need lots of trees, an artificial support system to hold all the fruit they can produce without breaking the trees, and adequate water and nutrients, from an irrigation/fertiga- tion system, to grow the trees quickly, DeMarree said. This infrastructure runs up the initial investment cost. Growers using the super spindle system, planting more than 2,000 trees per acre, incur an initial investment of around $20,000 an acre with a $6.50 tree. But, by year 12, costs should have been paid off, and by the time the trees are 15 years old, they'll have accumulated a net present value of accumulated profit of nearly $9,000 an acre, providing fruit prices hold. Reducing the tree cost by $2 has the sys- tem breaking even in year 10 and generating a NPV of accumulated profit of $13,000 by year 15. The tall spindle system will cost about $14,000 an acre to establish, significantly less than the super spindle because of fewer trees. It should be paid for by year 10, and should generate slightly more than $12,000 NPV of accumulated profit by year 15, assuming a $6.50 tree price. (Continued on page 48) GOOD FRUIT GROWER DECEMBER 2012 47 YIELD (bushels/acre)

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