Tree Fruit Growers Move Toward Automation

High-Density Orchard

Note: The cover story of American/Western Fruit Grower’s April issue featured growers and researchers in Pennsylvania who are involved in a Penn State University Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project to develop growing systems that will allow greater orchard mechanization and labor efficiency in the near future. This story highlight some of the technology that is part of this transition to mechanization, and how the state’s apple industry responded to changing market trends in order to make this happen. Much of the information for this article comes from a “Specialty Crop Innovations: Progress and Future Directions” report published by Penn State Extension.

Until recently, nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s apple crop was destined for the processing market. However, as the industry moves toward more fresh-market production, this transition has required a greater focus on fruit quality and getting full production in a quicker period of time.

Increased productivity, however, comes at a cost. High-density orchards require supplemental tree support that adds greatly to their initial investment. Average establishment costs for a high-density block in the Mid-Atlantic region are between $8,000 and $10,000 per acre compared to traditional low-density systems that cost $2,500 to $3,000 per acre to establish. Early and significant yields — a key benefit of high-density production — are critical in achieving maximum economic return and expedited payback in these systems.

The investment is well worth it, however, especially when it comes to future savings in labor. “Transitioning to uniform, high-density orchards will put growers in the best possible position to take advantage of new labor reducing technologies as they are developed,” says Matt Harsh, a fruit and vegetable grower in Smithburg, PA.

A New Orchard Blueprint

While it is a well-known and generally agreed-upon principle that smaller trees require less labor because they require less pruning and minimize ladder use, few high-density training systems were developed with labor efficiency in mind, and fewer still to facilitate the use of labor-saving mechanization. In fact, Jim Schupp, associate professor of pomology at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center, has declared at several industry meetings the past few years that fruit growers need to rethink their planting systems and make them more compatible with the potential benefits that mechanized orchard technology can provide.

A few years ago, tree fruit researchers at a fruit production workshop developed a “blueprint” of a successful intensive apple system (the blueprint includes dwarfing rootstocks and high tree density; quality nursery stock; supported canopies; single rows of tall narrow canopies; a canopy shape that complements natural tree form; minimal pruning; and minimal branching structure). In order to be economically productive, the orchard needs to achieve high light interception without creating dense areas in the canopy. Over time horticulturists found that when an orchard system is entirely within the reach of a person on the ground, one of two bad things happens: Either the canopy is productive but too dense, causing a loss of fruit quality, or the canopy is too small, causing loss of yield. The solution has been to increase canopy volume without condensing the canopy by growing the tree taller, while keeping it narrow and orienting the rows in a north-south direction wherever possible to minimize cross-row shading.

According to Schupp, these narrow fruiting wall systems can provide several advantages:
• The tall narrow tree wall is horticulturally sound, and its biological efficiency surpasses the performance of most existing systems.
• Sunlight and labor have the same reach. With narrow canopies, you can address both problems of light distribution and platform labor reach simultaneously.

Once this blueprint was established, the next step was to develop the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project, covered in the April issue of American/Western Fruit Grower. The CIG plantings are evaluating the effect of two high-density apple growing systems on productivity, fruit quality, and labor efficiency. The trees are being trained to form either a continuous tree wall, or a cone-shaped canopy with discrete gaps in the tree tops. Labor efficiency between the two systems is being compared using both ladders and a mobile platform. The large number of CIG trials and the relatively large size of the plantings will also provide adequate space for evaluating additional labor saving technologies developed through two USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) projects funded in 2008. By blending this research into the CIG demonstration project, researchers hope to increase the visibility of the results and speed industry adoption of new practices as they develop.

To watch videos of Jim Schupp, as well as Pennsylvania fruit grower Bruce Hollabaugh, discussing how CIG plantings will benefit the apple industry,.

To learn more about the technology being developed for these systems, go to the next page of this story.

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
Lynn Long talks about what this 2015 UFO Benton on Gisela 3 planting needs to get established at Riveridge Land Company in Sparta, MI, during IFTA 2016.
Fruits
February 11, 2016
Attendees Brave The Cold To Vet Hot Topics At IFTA Conference
Multileader systems, V-trellis systems on tour stops throughout the Ridge growing region in Michigan. Read More
Summer Foley gets crowned Miss Florida Citrus 2015 by 2004 winner Nikki Upthegrove Matthews and reigning Miss Florida Vicotria Cowen
Citrus
February 10, 2016
Who Will Be Crowned Miss Florida Citrus 2016?
Contestants invited to carry on a time-old industry tradition. Read More
field USDA
Disease Control
February 10, 2016
Broad-Spectrum Fungicide Approved For Specialty Crops In California
Rhyme controls powdery mildew, brown rot blossom blight, and leaf rusts. Read More
A selection of Andean dry beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, from the Andean bean diversity panel.

 

Photo by Stephen Ausmus.
Vegetables
February 10, 2016
Pulse Crops Top The List For Research
Scientists are making global contributions by participating in the Feed the Future Grain Legumes Project. Read More
The restoration of this secondary channel of the Napa River was made possible through the Rutherford Reach Restoration Project.
Grapes
February 10, 2016
Restoring The Napa River
The Napa River, which has helped create soil perfect for grape-growing in the Napa Valley, is in danger. Fortunately, conscientious Read More
Almond Board of Calif. logo
Nuts
February 10, 2016
Almond Board Working Toward Next-Generation Sustainability Solutions
New sustainability initiatives will bring the almond industry into the 22nd century. Read More
Photo Credit: David Eddy
Nuts
February 10, 2016
Incentives Available For Low-Emission Harvesters 
Almond and walnut growers who use lower-emission harvesting equipment may be eligible for financial incentives. Beginning this year, the USDA Read More
pile of potatoes
Potatoes
February 10, 2016
Potatoes Are More Than A Good Source Of Potassium
Researchers have been investigating the enhancement of oxidative qualities through breeding potato selections that are considerably higher in antioxidants than those currently available. Read More
Make sure your tank is free of cracks or fractures to avoid loss of product.
Photos credit: Fred Whitford, Purdue University
Equipment
February 10, 2016
Get Your Sprayer Ready For Spring
Cleaning equipment, checking for damages, and ensuring proper calibration should be standard procedure before the season begins. Read More
Bayer company logo
Crop Protection
February 10, 2016
Bayer Contests EPA’s Decision On Insecticide  
Company seeks to stop agency’s proposed cancellation of flubendiamide. Read More
The Latest
Fruits
February 11, 2016
Attendees Brave The Cold To Vet Hot Topi…
Multileader systems, V-trellis systems on tour stops throughout the Ridge growing region in Michigan. Read More
Citrus
February 10, 2016
Who Will Be Crowned Miss Florida Citrus …
Contestants invited to carry on a time-old industry tradition. Read More
Disease Control
February 10, 2016
Broad-Spectrum Fungicide Approved For Sp…
Rhyme controls powdery mildew, brown rot blossom blight, and leaf rusts. Read More
Vegetables
February 10, 2016
Pulse Crops Top The List For Research
Scientists are making global contributions by participating in the Feed the Future Grain Legumes Project. Read More
Grapes
February 10, 2016
Restoring The Napa River
The Napa River, which has helped create soil perfect for grape-growing in the Napa Valley, is in danger. Fortunately, conscientious Read More
Nuts
February 10, 2016
Almond Board Working Toward Next-Generat…
New sustainability initiatives will bring the almond industry into the 22nd century. Read More
Nuts
February 10, 2016
Incentives Available For Low-Emission Ha…
Almond and walnut growers who use lower-emission harvesting equipment may be eligible for financial incentives. Beginning this year, the USDA Read More
Potatoes
February 10, 2016
Potatoes Are More Than A Good Source Of …
Researchers have been investigating the enhancement of oxidative qualities through breeding potato selections that are considerably higher in antioxidants than those currently available. Read More
Equipment
February 10, 2016
Get Your Sprayer Ready For Spring
Cleaning equipment, checking for damages, and ensuring proper calibration should be standard procedure before the season begins. Read More
Crop Protection
February 10, 2016
Bayer Contests EPA’s Decision On Insecti…
Company seeks to stop agency’s proposed cancellation of flubendiamide. Read More
Vegetables
February 10, 2016
Vegetable Production: A Lesson In Sustai…
Thanks to the efforts of those producing vegetables, we have an abundance of healthy food options. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
February 9, 2016
University Of Florida Research Receives …
A big chunk of the federal funding will focus on growing the bacterium in a lab. Read More
Citrus
February 9, 2016
Revised Forecast Yields Small Victory Fo…
Updated USDA estimate holds serve again; hasn’t dipped since December. Read More
Apples & Pears
February 9, 2016
State Of The Fruit Industry 2016 [VIDEO]
According to an national poll of fruit growers, fruit industry suppliers, and researchers, the market is poised for growth in Read More
Crop Protection
February 9, 2016
Biopesticides And IPM
Dr. Surendra Dara, Strawberry and Vegetable Crops Advisor and Affiliated IPM Advisor with University of California Cooperative Extension, has long Read More
Fruits
February 8, 2016
Precision Fruit Growing, Business Manage…
American Fruit Grower magazine managing editor Christina Herrick posts her updates from the 59th annual gathering. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
Food Policy: If You Don’t Speak, O…
British Columbia's former ag minister spoke with attendees at NAFDMA's Convention about the political realities surrounding food policies. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
How British Columbia And U.S. Regs Are S…
Laws passed decades ago to protect small farms aren't keeping up with the realities of modern farmers and their marketing efforts. Restrictions can shut down hosting weddings, but offer incentives to open wineries. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]