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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
1. Cider cultivar observations (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont)
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.
In year one, an e-mail survey of 300 apple growers will be conducted to identify cider plantings and cultivars and to document current yield and cultural practices. Ten farms with cider cultivars will be 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.
c. 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).
d. 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.
2. Mechanical thinning research (Maine)
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
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.
c. 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.
d. 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.
3. Return bloom research (Vermont)
Experiment 1: Hedging.
Four hedging timings, based on research at and recommendations from Washington State University trials in dessert fruit (Lewis, 2018) will be 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 will be 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.
Treatments will be applied in two orchards on two cider apple cultivars at each. 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.
1. 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.
2-3. Research results to-date are limited, as field trials commenced in 2019 will not yield return bloom data until 2020 growing season. In 2019, three hypothesis-based field trials were conducted, including:
- Spur pruning trials at Highmoor farm in Monouth, ME.
- Hedge pruning trials at University of Vermont Horticulture Research and Education Center (South Burlington, VT) and Sunrise Orchards (Cornwall, VT).
- Plant growth regulator trials at University of Vermont Horticulture Research and Education Center (South Burlington, VT) and Sunrise Orchards (Cornwall, VT).
Results from these trials will be available in 2020.
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.
- Northeast Cider Apple Project eXtension page: https://apples.extension.org/category/cider-apples/
- Bradshaw, T. and J. Foster. New England Tree Fruit Management Guide: Cider Apples. http://netreefruit.org/apples/cider-apples
- Garofalo, E. and J. Clements. 2020. Small Steps to a Big Future for New England Cider Apples. http://umassfruitnotes.com/v84n2/a2.pdf
- Garofalo, E. Cider Chick YouTube channel. http://go.uvm.edu/ciderchick
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.
Survey has been distributed and results continue to be collected. Full survey results are expected in early spring, 2020.
2. One hundred fifty growers attend a regional cider apple production meeting to learn cider apple practices, and on-farm research / demonstration results.
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:
- Craft Cider Making: Trials in Sourcing Local Juice
Mike Fairbrother, Moonlight Meadery
- Geographical Indicators and Strategic Partnerships in Hard Cider
David Conner, UVM
- Management Considerations for Growing Cider Apples in New England
Terence Bradshaw, UVM
- 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.
3. Ten cider apple orchards complete quantitative on-farm assessments of specific cider apple cultivar susceptibility to disease and insect pests.
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.
4. Ten cider apple orchards complete quantitative on-farm assessments of specific cider apple cultivar susceptibility to disease and insect pests.
5. Ten cider apple orchards complete quantitative on-farm assessments of specific cider apple cultivar susceptibility to disease and insect pests
6. Twenty cider apple producers provide farm and cultivar performance data to participatory cultivar evaluation project
7. Twenty cider apple producers provide farm and cultivar performance data to participatory cultivar evaluation project.
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.
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.
10. Fifty growers attend local and regional apple production meetings to learn about on farm research and demonstration results.
11. One hundred-fifty growers attend local and regional apple production meetings to learn about on farm research and demonstration results.
12. Fifty growers attend local and regional apple production meetings to learn about on farm research and demonstration results.
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.
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.