New England Cider Apple Program: Optimizing Production for High-Value Markets

Progress report for LNE19-373

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $229,314.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Terence Bradshaw
University of Vermont
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Project Information

Performance Target:

Fifty growers will plant or manage cider apple cultivars, adopt sustainable horticultural practices, and reduce pesticide use on 400 acres of apples produced for making fermented cider in New England, and will increase gross revenue by $5000 per acre ($2 million annually) and reduce risk through market diversification.

Introduction:

In a recent survey of apple growers, one prominent Vermont apple grower stated, “The cider apple market represents the first real increase in demand for New England Apples in a generation. While sales of our dessert fruit have been flat or declining, we see this market as essential to maintaining the competitiveness of our industry.”

New England apple growers have increased production of hard cider apples to increase returns while reducing pesticide use.  Currently, the demand for cider apples exceeds supply, and apple varieties specifically selected for cider (e.g. ‘Dabinett’) offer high returns for growers.  However, production of cider apples is limited by unknown performance metrics for specialty cider apple cultivars when grown in New England, unique pest management considerations including greater susceptibility to fire blight, and alternate bearing cycles that reduce yield.

New and existing production practices, specifically bloom thinning, mechanical pruning and reevaluation of pest management models for cider apple cultivars can alleviate these problems, but information on how to implement these techniques without reducing yield or increasing production costs is insufficient. The knowledge needed to best grow cider varieties would enable growers to diversify markets, increase profitability and reduce pesticide use, and enhance the economic and environmental sustainability of their farms.  We will conduct an educational program combined with research to compare methods that alleviate biennial bearing, to document the need for crop protection chemicals and establish tolerance levels for primary pests, and to identify cultivars less susceptible to by fire blight.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Daniel Cooley (Researcher)
  • Dr. Jaime Pinero, Dani (Researcher)
  • Jon Clements (Educator)
  • Elizabeth Garofalo (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Renae Moran (Educator and Researcher)
  • Jessica Foster (Researcher)

Research

Hypothesis:
  1. Cider cultivar observations (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont)
    We hypothesize that commercially-important cider apple cultivars will differ in important horticultural, pest damage incidence, and juice quality characteristics when grown in New England orchards.
  1. Mechanical thinning research (Maine)
    By removing flowers at bloom prior to fruit set, we hypothesize that trees will conserve resources spent on developing fruit and thus may exhibit consistent and annual flowering habit compared to trees that are not mechanically thinned.
  1. Return bloom research (Vermont)
    By removing developing shoot tips, and thus removing auxin source that is competitive with fruit bud formation, we hypothesize that hedge-pruned trees will exhibit more consistent and more annual flower and fruit production than non-hedged trees.

Based on prior research, we hypothesize that cider apple cultivars will react differently to post-bloom plant growth regulators. We expect that application of carbaryl at petal fall may promote annual flower and fruit production on some cultivars, but not others. We also hypothesize that application of auxin- or ethylene-based hormones may improve flower bud formation compared to non-treated trees, and will improve annual fruit production.

Materials and methods:
  1. Cider cultivar observations (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont)
    a. Treatments:
    At least fifteen cider apple cultivars (e.g., ‘Dabinett’, ‘Yarlinton Mill’, ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’) will be systematically monitored annually from bloom until harvest to document bloom date, horticultural characteristics, and damage from diseases and insects, particularly fire blight and apple scab.
    b. Methods:
    In year one, an e-mail survey of apple growers was conducted to identify cider plantings and cultivars and to document current yield and cultural practices. Ten farms with cider cultivars were recruited to collaborate in scouting to quantify impacts of disease and insect pests. Flowering, fruit set and yield will be quantified among the different cultivars. Applicability of IPM pest risk forecasts, particularly fire blight, scab, and summer rot diseases, to cider cultivars will be evaluated.
  2. Data Collection and Analysis:
    Bloom dates for each cultivar, number of blossom and shoot fire blight infections, and observations of cultivar characteristics will be recorded annually. Crop yield will be recorded for a subset of trees. Data will be analyzed qualitatively (Chi-Square (SAS Institute Inc., 2002-2010)) and a summary of observations generated for each cultivar (Merwin, 2008).
  3. Farmer Input:
    In a 2018 survey, apple growers indicated that fire blight and cultivar evaluation were two of their most pressing problems in increasing cider apple production. This research will be conducted in existing commercial cider orchards that possess the needed varieties and growers have offered them for systematic evaluation. Because no statistically-replicated cider orchards exist for cultivar evaluation in New England, this farm-based observational study will collect regional data to generate qualitative evaluations of commonly-grown cultivars. Growers will also work with researchers to determine which IPM tactics may be adjusted to improve cider apple production and reduce inputs.
  4. Mechanical thinning research (Maine)
    a. Treatments
    Experiment 1. Honeycrisp or Golden Delicious
    Three methods of flower bud removal will be compared for their effectiveness in preventing biennial bearing, impact on production costs and impact on fruit quality.
    1) Traditional dormant pruning (with hand tools) that incorporates spur removal (January to March).
    2) Following dormant pruning, a mechanized string thinner will be used to remove fruiting spurs during the delayed dormant phase of tree growth (April).
    3) Traditional pruning with no spur removal (control).

Experiment 2. Cider Apple Varieties
Two string thinning levels will be compared for effectiveness in early flower thinning, yield, and biennial bearing. Level of string thinning will be accomplished by tractor speed, variable length or number of strings in consultation with the grower (Kon, Schupp, Winzeler, & Marini, 2013).
1) No string thinning
2) String thinning light
3) String thinning heavy
4) Spur removal with hand tools

  1. Methods
    Experiment 1. Methods will be applied to mature ‘Golden Delicious’ and/or ‘Honeycrisp’ semidwarf and dwarf apple trees as a controlled experiment with each treatment replicated a minimum of four times. All trees will receive standard post-bloom chemical thinning. Treatment 1 will be accomplished by using hand tools to selectively remove spurs bearing flower buds. The amount of spur removal will be documented and will be adjusted according to the number of flower buds in each season. Treatment 2 will be accomplished using a string thinner powered by a tractor. The speed and adjustments of the strings will be based on grower experience. The string thinner is owned by the cooperating grower.
    Experiment 2 will be conducted in a commercial orchard with uniform plantings of cider varieties. Trees will be string thinned and compared with trees not string thinned.
  2. Data collection and analysis
    The number of spurs removed per tree and the time needed to perform the spur pruning will be measured on three trees within each replication and treatment. To measure biennial bearing, the amount of bloom and yield will be measured each year and using the standard equation to calculate the biennial bearing index (Barritt, Konishi, & Dilley, 1996). Bloom will be visually evaluated and rated using a scale of 0 = no bloom to 5 = an excessive number of flowers (Bukovac, Sabbatini, & Schwallier, 2006). Yield will be measured on one tree per replication and treatment. Fruit quality as fruit size, soluble solids (Brix), and titratable acidity (if possible) be measured on a 10-fruit sample from each harvested tree. Standard statistical analysis will be used to determine treatment differences in flower bud thinning, yield and fruit quality.
  3. Farmer input
    Based on a grower survey in Sept. 2018, biennial bearing was identified as one of the biggest limitations for cider apple producers. It has been a problem for dessert apple growers, as well. We designed the research experiment in consultation with Harry Ricker, Ricker Hill Orchards, who currently addresses this problem with mechanical pruning and thinning but has not measured their efficacy.
  4. Return bloom research (Vermont)
    a. Treatments
    Experiment 1: Hedging.
    Four hedging timings, based on research at and recommendations from Washington State University trials in dessert fruit (Lewis, 2018) are being compared for effects on fruit bud development and return bloom in cider cultivars.
    1) Normal dormant pruning with hand tools.
    2) Mechanical dormant pruning with hedger.
    3) Mechanical pruning at pink (prebloom) bud stage with hedger.
    4) Mechanical pruning at 12-14 leaf stage (mid-June) with hedger.

Experiment 2: Plant growth regulators (PGRs)
Six PGR treatments were applied based on prior research by the investigator (T. L. Bradshaw, Foster, & Kingsley-Richards, 2019) to evaluate effects on return bloom in biennial cider apple cultivars.
1) Non-treated control
2) Carbaryl at 16 fl oz/acre at petal fall bloom stage.
3) Naphthalene acetic acid (NAA, Fruitone N at 3 oz/acre) at 6,8, and 10 weeks after petal fall.
4) Ethephon (Ethrel at 8 oz per acre) at 6,8, and 10 weeks after petal fall.
5) Carbaryl + NAA treatment.
6) Carbaryl + Ethephon treatment.

  1. Methods
    Treatments were applied in two orchards on two cider apple cultivars at each in 2019 and 2020. Experimental units will be a randomized complete block design with blocking by position in the orchard and each four-tree block containing one each of the treatments. Trials will be replicated six times, on the same trees each year. Treatments will be applied by project staff; hand pruning will use standard tools (loppers, etc.) mechanical pruning will use a gas-powered hedger, and spray treatments will be applied with a hydraulic handgun sprayer. Treatments will be repeated annually.
    c. Data collection and analysis
    For each experiment, the following data sets will be collected following standard protocols used by the investigator:
    Tree growth- shoot length, canopy size, and trunk cross-sectional area (T Bradshaw et al., 2016); Crop yield kg fruit per tree and yield efficiency (T Bradshaw et al., 2016); and Juice quality- pH, titratable acidity, soluble solids, and total polyphenols (T. L. Bradshaw, Kingsley-Richards, & Foster, 2018). For each experiment, standard ANOVA by treatment plus interactions within each cultivar and orchard will be performed (SAS Institute Inc., 2002-2010).
    d. Farmer input
    Farmers have informed this research at multiple points, including through systematic surveys, one-on-one interactions, orchard site visits, and presentations at regional, national, and even international conferences (T. Bradshaw, 2018; T Bradshaw & Hazelrigg, 2018; Miles & Peck, 2014; Peck, Versen, Kelley, Cook, & Stimart, 2012). Specifically, two Vermont growers approached the project investigator with the original ideas that have formed the core of this research objective, and the research, including need for multi-year funding, has been discussed with the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association board of directors and other stakeholders.

 

Barritt, B. H., Konishi, B. S., & Dilley, M. A. (1996). Tree size, yield and biennial bearing relationships with 40 apple rootstocks and three scion cultivars. Acta Hort, 451, 105-112.
Bradshaw, T. (2018). New England Cider Apple Grower Research Priorities Survey.
Bradshaw, T., Berkett, L., Parsons, R., Darby, H., Moran, R., Garcia, E., . . . Gorres, J. (2016). Tree growth and crop yield of five cultivars in two organic apple orchard systems in Vermont, USA, 2006-2013. Acta Hort, 1137, 299-306. doi:10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1137.42
Bradshaw, T., & Hazelrigg, A. (2018). Status of IPM practice adoption in Vermont apple orchards in 2017. Retrieved from http://www.uvm.edu/~fruit/pubs/2017AppleIPMstatus.pdf
Bradshaw, T. L., Foster, J. A., & Kingsley-Richards, S. L. (2019). Evaluation of plant growth regulators to reduce biennial bearing of two cider apple cultivars in Vermont, U.S.A. Acta Hort, Accepted, in-press.
Bradshaw, T. L., Kingsley-Richards, S. L., & Foster, J. A. (2018). Apple Cultivar Evaluations for Cider Making in Vermont, U.S.A. Acta Hort, 1205, 453-460.
Bukovac, M. J., Sabbatini, P., & Schwallier, P. G. (2006). Modifying Alternate Bearing of Spur-TypeDelicious' Apple with Ethephon. HortScience, 41(7), 1606-1611.
Kon, T. M., Schupp, J. R., Winzeler, H. E., & Marini, R. P. (2013). Influence of Mechanical String Thinning Treatments on Vegetative and Reproductive Tissues, Fruit Set, Yield, and Fruit Quality of ‘Gala’ Apple. HortScience, 48(1), 40-46. Retrieved from http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/48/1/40.abstract
Lewis, K. (2018). Mechanical Hedging in Apples. Retrieved from http://treefruit.wsu.edu/article/mechanical-hedging-in-apples/
Merwin, I. (2008). Some antique apples for modern orchards. New York Fruit Quart, 16, 11-17.
Miles, C. A., & Peck, G. (2014). 2013 and 2014 CiderCON Survey Results of Cider Producers and Cider Apple Growers. Paper presented at the CiderCON, Chicago, IL. http://extension.wsu.edu/maritimefruit/Documents/CiderCon-survey-report.pdf
Peck, G., Versen, S., Kelley, M., Cook, C., & Stimart, S. (2012). Survey of apple growers' interest in growing apples for hard cider production. Retrieved from Winchester, VA:
SAS Institute Inc. (2002-2010). SAS 9.3. Cary, NC.

 

 

Research results and discussion:

Project activity was affected in 2020 by the COVID-19 situation, which delayed some work and prevented other efforts. Early-season (March-June) travel and orchard access was limited for most cooperators; a COVID outbreak on one participating farm in Vermont prevented access at harvest to assess fruit and juice characteristics.

  1. Cider cultivar observations (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont).
    Cider apple cultivar data collection instruments were trialed in 2019 by Bradshaw and Garofalo. Conclusions from that season are limited, and during winter 2019-2020 and in successive growing seasons, data will be compared with those from grower cooperators to validate individual observations.

    1. In 2020, twenty-five cider apple cultivars were evaluated across ten farms. Observations were limited to sometimes one-off farm visits due to COVID-related travel restrictions, so data are not complete for this year. Many biennial cider varieties were also in their ‘off’, non-bearing year, so fruit evaluation was limited.
    2. In Maine, Relative bloom amount, full bloom dates and severity of fire blight infection were observed in four hard cider apple varieties in a commercial orchard (ca. 4 acres) in the 2020 growing season (Table 1).  
    • One cider variety, Dabinett, was in the ‘off’ year of a biennial bearing cycle and another one, Wickson’ was in an ‘on’ year. These varieties can be used for pruning research in 2021 as their tendency to alternate is more severe than in Honeycrisp.  Two varieties appeared to be more annual in bearing habit. 
    • The occurrence of fire blight in these varieties occurred in parallel with their bloom dates.  The variety that bloomed first had the least amount of fire blight, and the two later blooming varieties had more severe fire blight.  Fire blight was prevalent throughout the southern part of Maine this year.  Geneva rootstocks have been bred for resistance to fire blight and may serve as a genetic source for host resistance if new cultivar breeding efforts are needed.
    • Of the four varieties, Golden Russet had the least number of bad horticultural traits.  None of the varieties showed signs of scab or insect problems.  This orchard receives the standard commercial crop protection and chemical thinning.
    1. In Massachusetts, disease and insect assessments were conducted at each of six orchards. As a result of the season's weather, apple scab was not able to be assessed, however, relative field susceptibility to fireblight and Marssonina, respectively, were recorded in multiple cider apple varieties. Additionally, harvest maturity data were collected at these orchards as well. Data are being compiled and analyzed in early 2021.
    2. In Vermont, cider cultivars at three orchards were evaluated.
    • Three cultivars, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, and Kingston Black were evaluated at UVM orchard in South Burlington, VT. All had extremely sparse bloom and almost no fruit. Despite lack of bloom, fire blight, which has been a perennial problem in this orchard since planting (2016), was very prevalent on all three cultivars.
    • Fifteen cultivars were observed at a commercial orchard in Bridport, VT. No fire blight was observed on any varieties, but evidence of past disease (excised cankers, stub cuts on branches) was noted. Fruit set was extremely variable across this orchard. Access to this orchard at harvest was
    • Three cultivars were observed through orchard crop load trials at an orchard in Cornwall, VT. None of those trees exhibited fire blight symptoms, and crop was very low on all cultivars (Somerset Redstreak, Harry Masters Jersey, Dabinett)

 

 

 

 

  1. Mechanical thinning research (Maine)
    1. Spur pruning trials at Highmoor farm in Monouth, ME.

The string thinning experiment was put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Instead, observations on string thinning effectiveness were done at a commercial orchard in Greene, ME with Gala, a variety that may have larger fruit size from prebloom thinning.  The grower’s method was modified based on results from the previous year’s experiment.  In 2019, we learned that the string thinner overthinned outer branches and did not thin the inner canopy branches.  To counteract this imbalance, I suggested to the grower that he focus on thinning the outer branches only and adjust the speed of the string revolutions so that overthinning no longer occurred.  Follow-up observations indicated that trees were not overthinned, but also that they may not have been thinned enough.  Due to physical distancing requirements, I was not able to properly mark the rows that were thinned, so detailed measurements were not made.

 

The spur pruning (artificial spur extinction) experiment on Honeycrisp continued as planned.  In April, two rows of trees (35 trees per row) were spur pruned and one row was not.  Trees that were spur pruned in 2019 were spur pruned in 2020, and control trees remained without spur pruning, as a way to document repeated spur pruning on bloom and yield, but also on the amount of time required to continue the practice.  All three rows were pruned according to tall spindle limb renewal guidelines. 

 

 

Bloom counts were complicated by the need to do spur pruning three weeks before bloom, so flower clusters were counted at the half-inch green stage (before pruning) and again at full bloom (after pruning).  Bloom counts were done on selected rootstocks in order to expedite the pruning (Table 2). 

 

Spur pruning in 2019 took 2 to 4 minutes per tree depending on tree size. In 2020, total pruning time per tree (including limb renewal and simplifying branches) was an average of 2.3 minutes with the spur pruning treatment and an average of 0.7 minutes without spur pruning (measured on 2 rootstocks). The time required to spur prune was less than in the previous year because spur pruning was severe in 2019 when as many as 50% of spurs were removed.  Thus, spur pruning had a carry-over effect on the number flower clusters in 2020.  This complicated our measurements on ‘return bloom’, the measurement of biennial bearing.   Trees that were spur pruned had fewer flower clusters than control trees.  An exception occurred with V.1 which had more flowers on spur pruned trees, and this is likely due to biennial bearing in the control trees.  Biennial bearing occurred with G.214 which had a reduction in fruit number per tree in 2020 compared to 2019 in control trees, but no year-to-year change in spur pruned trees.  The degree of biennial bearing depended on rootstock, and was most severe in G.214 and least in G.41, but the orchards is only 7-years-old so yield is generally still increasing.

 

The severe spur pruning in 2019 reduced yield with most of the rootstocks (Figure 1), but did not affect yield in 2020 except with G.41 which continued to have reduced yield with spur pruning. 

 

The severe spur pruning in 2019 reduced crop density (number of fruit per unit trunk size) most of the rootstocks in 2019 (Figure 2).  Trees on G.202 and M.26 are smaller than normal for their dwarfing capability.  Ideal crop density for Honeycrisp trees trained as a tall spindle is 5 to 6 fruit per cm2 trunk-cross-sectional area.  Chemical thinning did not adequately reduce the crop density with V.1 and G.41 rootstocks.  In this case, the spur pruning was needed to prevent over cropping.  Trees on V.1 rootstock had reduced in crop density due to biennial bearing from the excessive crop load in 2019.  The additional spur pruning in 2020 did not reduce crop density in 2020.

 

Fruit size was increased by spur pruning in 2019 which is typical for reductions in crop load.  This occurred with most of the rootstocks, but not with M.26.  Overall, fruit size was largely unaffected by spur pruning in 2020 and this was most likely due to the lack of significant effect on crop load in this year, but could also have been due to the lack of irrigation in this dry season.  Fruit size was increased by spur pruning in trees on G.202 rootstock, but this was not due to crop load reduction.

 

 

Table 2. Amount of bloom before and after spur pruning and pruning time per tree in Honeycrisp on two rootstocks.  Pruning time includes limb and shoot removal for all trees and spur pruning for the treated trees.  Flower clusters were counted in early May and again at full bloom, May 25. 

 

Rootstock

 

Treatment

Pruning time

 (min./tree)

Flower clusters (# / tree)

Yield (no. fruit/tree)

Before

After

2019

2020

B.10 (annual)

Control

  0.77*

   311*

   265*

70

112

Spur pruned

2.28

193

156

49

88

G.214 (biennial)

Control

  0.60*

   234*

   229*

103*

74

Spur pruned

2.30

159

136

73

85

G.41 (annual)

Control

--

--

   158*

65

103

Spur pruned

--

--

130

46

77

V.1 (biennial)

Control

--

--

139

52

76

Spur pruned

--

--

   174*

43

90

 * Indicates a significant effect of spur pruning compared to no spur pruning.

 

 

Figure 1.  Honeycrisp yield in spur pruned and without spur pruning in 2019 and 2020. * Indicates a significant effect of spur pruning compared to no spur pruning.

Figure 2. Honeycrisp crop density as the number of fruit per unit trunk size in spur pruned and without spur pruning in 2019 and 2020.  * Indicates a significant effect of spur pruning compared to no spur pruning.

Figure 3. Honeycrisp fruit size in spur pruned and without spur pruning in 2019 and 2020.  * Indicates a significant effect of spur pruning compared to no spur pruning.

 

 

  1. Return bloom research (Vermont)

Return bloom research in Vermont commenced in 2019 season, so work is well-underway for this objective with an additional year of data.

    1. Hedge pruning trials at University of Vermont Horticulture Research and Education Center (South Burlington, VT) and Sunrise Orchards (Cornwall, VT).

Three mechanical hedging timings were compared for their effects on return bloom in cider cultivars trained to tall spindle. Treatments consisted of 1) Normal winter dormant pruning with hand tools as a control. 2) Mechanical winter dormant pruning with hedger. 3) Mechanical pruning at pink (prebloom) bud stage with hedger. 4) Mechanical pruning at 12-14 leaf stage (mid-June) with hedger. Treatments were applied in a randomized complete block design, with six single-tree replications per treatment.

Replicated field trials were done at two orchards in Chittenden and Addison County, Vermont. The first site located at the UVM Horticulture Research and Education Center in South Burlington, VT.  Productive, 8 year old, ‘Empire’ and ‘McIntosh’ trees grafted onto 'Budagovsky 9’ (BUD 9) rootstock spaced at 0.9m · 4.5m apart in a Windsor Adams loamy sand with supplemental irrigation were selected for the trial. The second location, a commercial orchard in Cornwall, VT with hard cider cultivars ‘Somerset Redstreak’ and ‘Harry Masters Jersey’ grafted on NIC29 ® rootstock established in 2016 planted at 0.9m · 4 m spacing in Vergennes clay soil with supplemental irrigation. At both sites, orchard floor management consisted of semi frequent mowing of the interrows with a 1-m herbicide strip maintained in the intrarow. Trees were irrigated at the grower’s discretion. Each planting followed standard commercial practices for pest and fertilization management. 

Hedging was performed using a mechanical hedge trimmer (STHL model KM 56 RC-E with HL-KM attachment, STIHL Inc. Virginia Beach, VA). Trees were trimmed to a fruiting wall measuring two feet across the row using a measured guide attached to the trimmer. Hedging performed during the growing season was completed when no rain was forecast for two days following the procedure to limit potential for firelight infection. 

‘Somerset Redstreak’ was recorded at full bloom on May 21 in 2019 and 2020.  Fruit was harvested according to growers schedule and recommendation on 16 Sept 2019 and 8 Sept 2020. ‘Harry Masters Jersey’ full bloom was recorded on 27 May 2019 and 29 May 2020. Harvested 25 Sept 2020, 2019 harvest date unrecorded. ‘McIntosh’ came into full bloom 23 May 2019 and 21 May 2020, harvested on 19 Sept 2019, and 24 Sept 2020. ‘Empire’ full bloom 24 May 2019, 21 May 2020 with harvest on 26 Sept 2019, and 28 Sept 2020.  

Data Collection

At full bloom, for each treatment-replicate, the total number of flower clusters on each tree was counted and recorded. Each fall vegetative growth parameters: tree height and spread (m), trunk circumference (cm), and the length of five terminal branches per tree were measured. At harvest total crop yield was measured (kg tree-1) and number of fruit per tree recorded. The number of recently dropped fruits were recorded separately and assumed to be of average fruit weight. A randomly selected sample of fruit (5) per treatment-replicate (tree) was collected from harvested fruit and assessed for fruit size, scored for percent green background color to red foreground color, general defects, and USDA grade distribution (Bradshaw et al., 2018). After external evaluation, internal fruit qualities such as fruit firmness and ripeness were assessed. Fruit firmness was measured using a 11-mm probe penetrometer (Wagner, Greenwich,CT) and ripeness assigned using the starch iodine index (Blanpied; Silsby 1992-07 #125). Fruit samples were then analyzed for juice quality parameters including pH, titratable acidity, total phenolics, and soluble solids using standard protocols. 

Data analysis

Data were subject to analysis of variance (ANOVA) procedures by hedging treatment separately for each orchard location and year (SAS Institute Inc., 2002-2010). If overall variances were found at α=0.05, post-hoc multiple comparisons were made using Tukey’s adjustment.

 

Preliminary results

  • Harry Masters Jersey exhibited strong biennial tendencies with many trees exhibiting no return bloom spring 2020.
  • There was no significant effect on juice quality.
  • Continued work needed
  • We saw no significant difference in juice quality for soluble solids, pH, malic acid, or total polyphenols.
  • McIntosh - all hedging treatments significantly different from control pruning treatment.
  • Juice quality characteristics across all cultivars did not differ due to pruning method or hedging timing, but did differ due to year. Soluble solids concentration, pH, and phenolic composition did not change with hedging treatment times.

This material is being prepared for publication in early 2021.

    1. Plant growth regulator trials at University of Vermont Horticulture Research and Education Center (South Burlington, VT) and Sunrise Orchards (Cornwall, VT).

Replicated field trials have been completed at two orchards in Chittenden and Addison County, Vermont to determine the effect that plant growth regulators would have on return bloom, crop yield, and juice quality when completed at different times throughout the growing season.  

The first site was located at the UVM Horticulture Research and Education Center in South Burlington, VT. The cultivars on site were ‘Kingston Black’ grafted onto G.41 rootstock at 2,390 trees ha-1; soil is a Windsor Adams loamy sand with supplemental irrigation. 

Site two was located at a commercial orchard in Cornwall, VT with ‘Somerset Redstreak’ trees on NIC29 rootstock planted in the 2015 at 2,390 trees trees ha-1 on Nellis loam soil with irrigation. In each orchard, standard commercial practices for pest management, fertilization, and groundcover management were applied to the entire planting.

Two years of data have been collected and the results are being prepared foir publication and MS Thesis in spring 2021.

Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:

We are implementing a multi-dimensional outreach and extension program to disseminate NECAP findings and encourage adoption of sustainable production practices for cider apple cultivars. Short- and mid-term outcomes are directly related to Northeast SARE’s broad-based outcomes on strengthening sustainability of agricultural production systems and are both attainable and measurable.

Recruitment. Announcements were sent by email newsletters in November, 2019 in each Project state (MA, ME and VT) and to colleagues in other New England states to over 300 apple growers who will be recruited to attend educational events and to participate in a survey. NECAP announcements posted at University websites, newsletter articles and a survey will serve as recruitment materials, and materials will be included in presently-used program instruments (e.g., U-Maine tree fruit newsletter, UMASS ‘Healthy Fruit’, UVM Fruit Blog). Non-traditional outreach partners (e.g., MOFGA, NOFA, state Agencies of Agriculture) will be included in program outreach to extend the project to non-traditional fruit growers in the region.

Curriculum Topics. Cider apple production problems and solutions are the focus of our educational program.  We will have events with sessions devoted to cider apple issues such as cultivar selection; biennial bearing causes and cures; primary disease and insect pests; and cost-effective crop load management.  Increased labor or equipment costs are a challenge to farmer adoption, and this will be addressed by demonstrating the potential improvement in yield and profit.  Perceptions of increased risk for crop loss will be addressed by demonstrated crop protection effectiveness and reduction in production costs. The curriculum will also include the ongoing research on improving consistency in yield and the development of IPM and horticultural management protocols specific to cider apples.

Instructional Methods. Farmer education will be accomplished through educational presentations at grower meetings, newsletter articles, creation of a cider apple section in the New England Tree Fruit Management Guide, grower consultations, and on-farm research projects.  Educational presentations on cider apple production and the research projects will occur at existing annual summer and winter fruit grower meetings in each state.  Project personnel hosted a cider apple-specific session at 2019 New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference attended by 82 total participants. NECAP results and progress will be reported on a dedicated project web space , on social media, and extended via project newsletters and publications (e.g., UMass Healthy Fruit; Fruit Notes; U-Maine tree fruit newsletter; regional colleagues’ websites and newsletters).  Consultations with individual growers, an effective method for assisting with farm-specific problems, will be conducted at the request of interested growers.

Beneficiary Support.  Project participants will support growers who are implementing a low-spray program developed for cider apples and growers who are implementing horticultural methods that manage cropload and increase repeat bloom.  Pruning demonstrations and technical assistance will be given to growers as they adopt these strategies. The project team has a long history of providing excellent technical outreach to New England producers, and this project will be integrated into existing networks.

Project outputs:

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

1. New England Cider Apple Program (NECAP) announcement is emailed in newsletters to 300 fruit growers in New England. Growers are invited to attend an educational session at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference (NEVFC). One hundred growers complete the survey of practices used on their farms to produce cider apples.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
85
Proposed Completion Date:
March 30, 2020
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 11, 2019
Accomplishments:

Survey has been distributed and results continue to be collected. Full survey results are expected in early spring, 2020.

 

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

2. One hundred fifty growers attend a regional cider apple production meeting to learn cider apple practices, and on-farm research / demonstration results.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
85
Proposed Completion Date:
December 11, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
December 11, 2019
Accomplishments:

A Hard Cider session was presented at New England Vegetable and Fruit Meetings in Manchester, NH on December 11, 2019, and was attended by 85 stakeholders. The program included:

  1. Craft Cider Making: Trials in Sourcing Local Juice
    Mike Fairbrother, Moonlight Meadery
  2. Geographical Indicators and Strategic Partnerships in Hard Cider
    David Conner, UVM
  3. Management Considerations for Growing Cider Apples in New England
    Terence Bradshaw, UVM
  4. Experiences in Growing Apples for Cider Making
    Giff Burnap, Butternut Farm Cidery
    Dan Wilson, Hicks Orchard
    Ali Stevenson, Scott Farm Orchard

In March, 2020, project personnel will also present at the Northeastern Cider Conference in Albany, NY. This conference was canceled due to the COVID-10 situation.

 

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

3. Ten cider apple orchards complete quantitative on-farm assessments of specific cider apple cultivar susceptibility to disease and insect pests.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
6
Proposed Completion Date:
October 1, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 1, 2019
Accomplishments:

Cultivar assessments in 2019 were scaled-back in order to evaluate the survey instrument and methodology used to collect field data. The NECAP advisory committee met on December 11, 2019 at NEVFC to discuss and hone data collection methods to be used in 2020.

 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

4. Ten cider apple orchards complete quantitative on-farm assessments of specific cider apple cultivar susceptibility to disease and insect pests.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
6
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
5
Proposed Completion Date:
October 1, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Complete cultivar evaluation was slowed by travel and farm access restrictions resulting from COVID-19. Data were collected at all ten farms, project staff are collaborating over winter/spring 2021 to identify gaps in data and elucidate cultivar trends.

 

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

5. Ten cider apple orchards complete quantitative on-farm assessments of specific cider apple cultivar susceptibility to disease and insect pests

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed Completion Date:
October 1, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

6. Twenty cider apple producers provide farm and cultivar performance data to participatory cultivar evaluation project

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
November 15, 2020
Status:
Incomplete
Accomplishments:

Participatory data collection was one component of the project that was limited in 2020. We are developing protocols to collect that data in 2012 and beyond.

 

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

7. Twenty cider apple producers provide farm and cultivar performance data to participatory cultivar evaluation project.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
November 15, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

8. Four cider apple orchards host on-farm research and demonstration trials to evaluate fruit thinning and pruning methods for reducing biennial bearing and pest management practices.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
3
Proposed Completion Date:
December 15, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

One grower in Greene, ME was spur pruning Honeycrisp trees to better manage crop load.  The method involved counting fruit and pruning off a certain number of spurs so that only 100 remained, and this added to the labor requirement.  A quicker method of assessing the number of spurs on each tree is needed, but should be compared to the more actual counting.  The same grower also thins at full bloom by applying lime sulfur. In 2020, we used the pollen tube grower model to fine tune application timing for greater effectiveness.

 

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

9. Four cider apple orchards host on-farm research and demonstration trials to evaluate fruit thinning and pruning methods for reducing biennial bearing and pest management practices.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
4
Proposed Completion Date:
December 15, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Two years of research in VT and one in Maine have been completed.

 

Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

10. Fifty growers attend local and regional apple production meetings to learn about on farm research and demonstration results.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
March 15, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

11. One hundred-fifty growers attend local and regional apple production meetings to learn about on farm research and demonstration results.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
150
Proposed Completion Date:
March 15, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

12. Fifty growers attend local and regional apple production meetings to learn about on farm research and demonstration results.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
March 15, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #13 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

13. Fifty growers adopt sustainable cider apple practices including new plantings of high-value cider apple cultivars, more effective horticultural practices (pruning, thinning, training), and reduced pesticide application.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Milestone #14 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

14. Fifty growers adopting cider apple production practices will complete a comprehensive end-of-project survey to document: changes in management, economic benefits from growing cider apples, and barriers or incentives they experienced toward increased adoption of cider apple production methods.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
June 30, 2022
Status:
In Progress
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.