Peach Training Systems Aren’t One-Size-Fits-All
Peach training systems are not a one-size-fits-all proposition says Bill Shane senior Michigan State University (MSU) Extension tree fruit specialist. In fact, there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind when selecting the proper training system for your orchard.
“I don’t think we’ve settled upon the perfect system yet. There’s considerations on the climate, and varieties and whether you want to use a large tractor-mounted string thinner, handlheld thinner, or non-mechanical methods to reduce fruit load,” he says.
Labor costs are also a factor. Growers need to be considering newer systems that can help save on labor and maintenance costs throughout the growing season.
“Labor costs are a major issue in fresh stone fruit production with hand pruning, hand fruit thinning, and hand harvest. Some peach growers are looking at new pruning/training systems combined with size-controlling rootstocks to lower tree height, and this can lead to lower labor costs,” says Ted DeJong, a University of California (UC) Cooperative Extension specialist.
To offset some of these labor costs with thinning and harvesting, growers are considering moving to a laderless orchard, by using dwarfing or semi-dwarfing rootstocks.
Sticking With The Tried And True
New training methods aren’t the only way to deal with ladder issues, of course. Lots of growers opt to stay with traditional production systems such as open center or open vase systems. Trees in the open vase system have shorter height for labor access.
Jim Schupp, associate professor of pomology at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center, says growers in his region have planted open center, or open vase trees, for so long that they “are familiar to the sins of open vase and become blind to them.”
Open vase, with its cylindrical shape, is a problem for future mechanization, Schupp says. Growers must hand thin trees, which adds to labor costs. Another challenge with an open center system is reduced yield and fruit color because of low light interception and penetration.
Potential For Other Systems
DeJong says that although growers may prefer to stay with a traditional production system to minimize risk and cost of changing, this may not be feasible in the future as labor and resources become scarce.
“It is questionable whether this strategy will be sustainable as pressures increase from all sides, including labor costs and availability, environmental regulations, resource limitations, and market demands,” he says.
Schupp advocates for taller trees in V growing systems. However, trees are taller, which makes for a more labor-intensive crop.
“Growers often want short trees as opposed to tall perpendicular V,” Schupp says. “Bite the bullet, grow them tall.”
A common challenge with the perpendicular V system, Schupp says, is the bearing surface of trees migrates up. Renewal pruning is not as successful as well.
However, all V systems provide greater yield and fruit color as a result of higher light interception and penetration. Mechanization is also easier with the V systems.
Penn State Training System Trial
Schupp and Tara Baugher, co-team leader of the Penn State tree fruit Extension program, conducted a peach orchard systems trial. Trees were grown in a perpendicular V at 5-foot row spacing, quad V at 7-foot row spacing, hex V at 10-foot row spacing and open center at 14-foot row spacing.