Evaluating Cherry Training Systems

Cherry Tall Spindle Axe

As every fruit grower knows, there are two ways to increase profits: either increase returns, or cut costs. With the three cherry training systems Robert Arceo is testing as the California part of a North Central 140 Regional Rootstock Research project (NC-140), he is attempting to find a way to do both.

A grower and consultant in Courtland, which is located near the state capital of Sacramento, Arceo is growing Benton variety cherries on various Gisela rootstocks utilizing three training systems: Upright Fruiting Offshoot (UFO), Tall Spindle Axe (TSA), and Kym Green Bush (KGB). The trees are grown on Gisela 3, 5, 6, and 12. So far, Arceo says the best matchups appear to be UFO trees growing on Gisela 12, the most vigorous of the three rootstocks; the TSA on 3, the least vigorous; and the KGB on 5. The trees were planted just two years ago by Arceo and University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisors Joe Grant and Chuck Ingels, but Arceo is pleased by what he’s seen so far.

“I’m really liking this; I think it’s got a lot of potential,” he says, and he thinks other growers will agree.

Cost Savings

Arceo is convinced each of the new systems will represent a cost savings over older, traditional cherry training systems because the trees will require fewer man-hours. “We’re trying to create a pedestrian-type orchard where there’s not a lot of ladder work,” he says. “An inexperienced picker can pick at least as much fruit, but more often much more, than an experienced picker in a normal orchard.”

Ingels says that not only does labor represent a grower’s biggest cost, but with the issue of immigration reform up in the air, no one knows if cherry growers will even be certain of having enough employees in the future. “It boils down to labor availability,” he says. “That’s what’s driving this project.”

Climbing up and down ladders is not only a huge waste of time, it represents a potential safety problem that can affect workers’ compensation insurance costs. “We have the dwarfing rootstocks for cherries,” Ingels notes. “Shorter trees just make sense because they’re easier for workers and they’re more efficient in terms of time.”

Besides being easier to pick, the trees in this trial are easier to train, notes Arceo. “With a conventional orchard, you get 10 guys out there and they prune it 10 different ways,” he says. “This is pretty simple, because you always do (the given training system) the same.”

Potential Yield Increase

Arceo feels that he will see yield increases with the new systems, in addition to the cost savings. However, not only is it too early in the trial, he has been hit recently with horrible weather. In fact, he hasn’t picked any cherries in the past two years. “A 100% wipeout,” he says, shaking his head. However, Ingels notes that if Arceo didn’t believe in the newer systems, he wouldn’t be training some of his own trees with the new systems. Also, even without yield increases, Ingels says that there are potentially more savings on pest management because the growers will have smaller trees to spray and will use less material.

Ingels believes the training systems might be more precocious, especially the TSA. “For early production, it might be a winner, but we just don’t know yet,” he says. “With higher earlier production you may get more overall tonnage in the long run.”

Watch A Video Of These Systems!

The conventional training system used for cherries has been open center, or open vase, notes Chuck Ingels. Open center training produces a large tree, requiring workers to move ladders around and within each tree to prune and harvest, with a relatively wide spacing between trees of approximately 12 to 15 feet.

With the high cost of labor and increasingly unavailable labor supply, newer training systems are being used in other parts of the country and the world that require less labor and therefore lower costs. To watch a video of each of these systems, click here.

To learn more from the perspective of Dr. Greg Lang, a lead researcher involved in the NC-140 trials, go to the next page.

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