Dwarf Fruit Tree Management on Marginal Soils

Final Report for FNC05-588

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $5,793.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Alldredge’s Apple Man Orchard is a sole proprietorship encompassing 33 acres located in the Missouri River bluffs. There are approximately 500 peach trees and 400 apple trees at this time; also grown is a small area of pumpkins. Central to the operation is a retail area, used chiefly in the fall season when families come out to the farm to experience you pick apples and other fall activities. In the past production has been limited by the need to use the better soils on the ridge top. This finite amount of well drained soil allowed us to use a traditional apple growing system where by the average number of trees per acre seldom exceeded 70. Expansion was impeded by this antiquated system of management.

We have practiced sustainable agriculture at the orchard, though in a different aspect than now proposed. Some of the practices are integrated pest management, permanent sod management, quantitative and qualitative leaf analysis as applied to plant nutrition, and manure application to soils as an amendment.

1. Goal – To take poorly drained farm ground traditionally used for row crops and, with BEST management practices, create a soil environment conducive to deep rooted crops, such as dwarf apple trees.
2. Process – Research was conducted primarily though internet resources and from conversations with experts in the fields of pomology, soil science, and agricultural tiling. The first step in conducting the project involved previous know legible results become a long term consideration. As a result, present day health is the best indicator at this time. Trees were planted in early spring and have averaged a respectable 3+ of terminal growth. After multiple heavy rains, tree health continues to be vigorous. In addition, it is apparent the tile lines are working as designed by the heavy flow witnessed from the discharge. While it is to early to objectively compare results with the older conventional orchard, we expect to achieve heavier yields per acre due to high-density management. Also, we expect to see greater overall farm yield due to more acres in fruit production of tiling systems used with row crops on bottom ground for both drainage and irrigation. This, in combination with orchard tiling used on the east coast, in particular Terrence Robinson’s research, made it logical these systems could be used on marginally wet soils in this area.
Some of the most important questions affecting the viability of the project were: placement of the tiles lines in respect to tree rows, spacing between lines, and the depth of the lines. Soil engineers within Missouri’s Soil Stabilization and Conservation Service determined that our soil consisted of a slowly permeable, high clay content Knox silt loam, designated as severely eroded, with a slope of 14-20%. As such, it would necessitate line spacing of approximately 50 feet apart at a tree root depth of four feet in order to achieve adequate drainage within 24 hours.
Dwarf apple trees varieties were chosen with an eye towards limited precocious root growth. However, it necessitated the purchase and installation of wooden posts for support due to the shallow root system. In addition, two rows of trees were situated between each tile line, avoiding placement directly over the line. Initial plans to terrace the hillside were determined to be too costly and of limited effectiveness, and abandoned. Unused areas of the hillside were put to permanent sod.
3. People – The key people involved with this project include: David Kacirek, area resource soil scientists, USDA/NRCS, St. Joseph MO; Pat Byers, extension agent with Southeast Missouri State University, Mountain Grove MO; Ted Carey, extension agent with Kansas State University.
4. Results – Trees take years to reach maturity, therefore tanned on margin Farmer Rancher Grant Program
5. Discussion – Areas affected by poorly drained soils need not be ignored or planted to alternative crops. We were able to overcome this barrier with properly engineered tiling on the problem hillside. While balancing the cost of the project against the benefits was a challenge, we are hopeful this will benefit our farm with higher yields, as well as sustainable agricultural practices. If asked for advice, I would say to carefully weigh your options. Cost of installing tile is high, and if alternative well-drained ground is available it would obviously be more cost-effective, especially since the long term outcome is not known. However, in our case, this land was not available, so tiling became our best option.

At this time the economic impact of the project is unknown. The trees will not be in full production for approximately four years. The establishment of a permanent sod cover has lessened erosion, nutrient loss, etc., and improved the health of the pond below this watershed. Algae bloom and siltation have been reduced and oxygenation and water clarity have been increased. The social impact that all of these measures contributes to, as it affects BEST management practices, are apparent in the continued health and welfare of the community.

At this early time it is difficult to preclude definite answers, however, it is our hope in the near future to host grower field demonstration whereby we can better answer questions. We have communicated our project to Pat Byers, horticulture extension agent for Southeast Missouri State University and one of the leading fruit experts in Missouri. We have asked him to please consider our farm for future demonstrations, and he has indicated that he is amenable to this. In addition, we have integrated our project into our school tours, a major part of our operation. The message we convey to children is that as farmers we have an ecological commitment to our community and through responsible management practices farming will continue to provide their food in a safe manner. In simpler terms, yes, we’re making the orchard bigger, but doing it in a way this is better for our world. Also, many of our customers ask us about the new orchard, which gives us the opportunity to answer questions and enables us to explain the implications of this project.

As a participant, our recommendation would be to expand on this grant program. It has allowed us to continue to grow as a business by enabling us to tackle the complexities associated with this project. In has truly been a wonderful project, one that is an honor to participate in.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.