Market Watch

By Judie Steeves Abundance of small fruit is a big concern

Removal of larger limbs could be key to effective pruning this year.


mall-sized fruit was the headline issue for the 2017 season, and it could be a factor for the 2018 crop as well, unless growers take action this spring.

Throughout the Pacific Northwest, the story is the same: There are too many small fruits and the demand is for larger fruit.

Unfortunately, because there was such a large crop of (small-sized) apples there weren’t many ‘resting spurs’ so next year’s crop could also be affected, notes Hank Markgraf, grower services manager for the B.C. Tree Fruit Co-op. “I’m a bit worried about both a small crop and small-sized fruit this coming year,” he admits, but adds, “Unless growers do a decent job of pruning.”

He recommends larger limb removal this year in particular, as well as spur removal to improve the vigour of the tree. Light penetration will be improved if two or three big branches are removed, he advises.

Unfortunately, many growers didn’t get at their pruning during the winter because the snow was so deep, so there could be a tendency to do a quick job.

Markgraf advises against that, warning that after last year’s crop, this would not be a good year to take it easy on the pruning. “Take out the chainsaw; make some big cuts.” He also advises it will be particularly important this year

that growers stay on top of their nutrient programs, beginning early in the season, both before and after bloom, not late in the season.

Trees went into winter well, with no sharp, sudden frosts to cause damage, and by the time it got cold, there was a nice, insulating blanket of snow on the ground, he notes, so most orchards will have got through winter well, he figures. “There was a good transition period last fall that allowed the trees to rest in preparation for dormancy, and to store nutrients in their buds, ready for spring,” he notes. It was another weird year, weather-wise, poor at bloom and the rest of spring, then a hot, dry summer. But judicious pruning can help growers even out the ups and downs of what Mother Nature sends our way, he comments. “Luck favours the prepared mind.”

BCTF marketing manager Chris Pollock anticipates the stored apples from the 2017 harvest will all be sold out by mid- June, ready for the new season.

Although prices remain similar to the previous year for large apples, the flood of small fruit in the market has resulted in slashed returns for those smaller-sizes of fruit, he advises. That means growers could see lower returns this year. In particular Gala growers will notice returns are down. It’s estimated there are 2.3 million cartons of BC apples, while Washington State is estimating more than 135 million boxes. On the other hand, pear growers should be smiling, because the pear market has been very favourable this year, he notes.


British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2018

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