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Orchard Management


There are relatively inexpensivemeasures you can take to get a decent pack-out report.


A


pple growers have some tough choices to make. How do you get the best return given that costs are up for all virtually all your inputs and returns for pretty much all varieties are down?


I can talk about a number of production-related efforts that will increase returns, but your basic response is likely: “I just don’t have the cash flow to do many of those important things that will increase returns.”


However, as I said, there are some choices to be made. If you have a “B” or less on your pack-out report card you have a problem that has to be examined. You cannot go for big tonnage and think it will cover you and somehow you will see a return. A number of years ago you could deliver a percentage of small, poorly-coloured fruit, let the packinghouse sort out the inferior sizes and grades and still get a reasonable return. The best growers never did that.


You first have to go for the fruit that pays. For example, about 50 percent of the Spartan crop last year was too small to make any money. There is simply no point in bringing in fruit that is too small. Each pack-out tells you what sizes and grades make the most money, so you know what will make money. So how do the best growers do it? They simply don’t deliver small fruit, poorly- coloured fruit or fruit with unacceptable defects. So throw it down and don’t put it in the bin. The first expensive unacceptable move is to put that fruit in the bin and then waste money and time delivering it to the house, where it is run over the line culled, wasting more of your money. The house can try to find a home for fruit that is extremely hard to sell and return any money over and above house costs. Generally, this is wasted effort. Negative returns for culls, small sizes and poor colour simply drag down your average return. A significant volume of your good fruit is wasted paying for the costs of the poor fruit


By Peter Waterman Junk fruit guarantees low returns


Some varieties do not pay the costs of production, no matter how good your fruit is. The chainsaw is the only answer. You essentially have from mid-November until late-March to complete winter pruning. This year’s


pack-out is your guide as to where to spend your effort. Prune out limbs that are 30 to 50 percent the size of the trunk where they come from on the trunk. Remove larger limbs in the top half of the tree that shade lower limbs. Remove small limbs in the centre of the tree that produce the small green fruit. With Gala in particular, retain smaller productive limbs in the top but cut them back so they don’t droop and shade fruit and branches immediately below them. This also has the effect of reducing fruit number so the remaining fruit get bigger size.


For fruit size you have to do as much spur pruning as you can. This is your first and most effective fruit thinning exercise. Spurs get old and need renewal. Cutting back spurs is very effective in increasing fruit size. Ambrosia responds well to renewal of branches when old branches are removed. Ambrosia will throw good new shoots with stub pruning where stubs are left five to seven centimetres (two to three inches) long. Frequently these stubs will end in a fruit bud. Excessive fruit load has a huge negative impact on fruit colour for the whole tree. Limb removal lets in more light for better colour and allows for effective spray coverage, especially for


the high-volume thinning sprays. A thorough aggressive spray thinning effort is mandatory and must be a major focus. Hand thinning is very expensive and less effective for early fruit sizing, which occurs shortly after bloom when active fruit cell division is taking place. More fruit cells mean more cells to size in the fruit enlargement phase of development. A major amount of your time and effort for size and colour is completed by the time the fruit is 20 mm.


For most varieties, excessive ground- applied nitrogen to get new growth just makes your life difficult. It tends to result in heavy top growth and green fruit that matures late and only gets colour, if it ever does, when it has reached “C” category. Pruning has a vigour-inducing effect wherever the cuts are made. With branch removal you get new branch development. Cutting back spurs encourages new bourse shoots and the development of new healthy larger fruit buds. This means larger spur leaves encouraging larger healthier spurs and fruit buds for next years crop. You have five to six months to do this critical work. It is the most critical production effort you can make that will result in better returns. You and one or two good pruners (that is the key word, good) can get most of this work done. Any hand thinning will be greatly reduced and harvesting efforts will be much more effective with more fruit in larger sizes. At the same time you must get your picking crew to throw down the junk and don’t incur any additional costs by putting junk in the bin — Retired horticulturist and


Summerland grower Peter Waterman can be reached at peter@omedia.ca


AGRICULTURAL NETS & FABRICS


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250.494.1099 British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall 2011 19


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