Improving sustainability of North Central Region peach production through novel training systems and optimization of branch angle.
Training tree fruits to high-density, planar canopy systems can increase sustainability by decreasing labor and pesticide inputs, while increasing fruit quality, yield per acre, and worker safety. High density systems using dwarfing rootstocks have been widely adopted by apple growers, however, their utility for peach (Prunus persica) is limited by high vegetative vigor due to the lack of dwarfing rootstocks, which makes training difficult and leads to high labor costs. This project advances development of high-density systems for peach by studying the optimization of tree branch angles for innovative training strategies. This unique approach will improve understanding of how these factors contribute to more efficient orchard systems, resulting in novel recommendations that can be applied by each grower to their particular situation.
To advance the adoption of high-density, planar production systems for peach, we have three objectives. First, we will explore how novel training systems affect tree vigor, canopy establishment, yield, and fruit quality. Utilizing two experimental plots, one in Clarksville MI and one in Benton Harbor MI, we will analyze how the number of leaders (vertically-oriented trunks) per tree affects these traits essential to growers. We hypothesize that increasing the number of leaders will reduce vigor without the need for dwarfing rootstocks, increasing the feasibility of high-density training systems. Second, we will look at how branch angle impacts training ease, light interception, fruit quality, and branch strength. We will examine three peach varieties with distinct genetically-determined branch angles. We hypothesize that narrower branch angles will facilitate planar canopy training. Third, we will survey growers to determine what they view as major obstacles to adopting high-density systems in peach. Further understanding these obstacles can guide future research and outreach to address those issues.
During the project, we will perform outreach through regional growers’ meetings and tours of our experimental plots. These will demonstrate our training techniques, helping growers make informed decisions. The efficacy of our outreach will be evaluated through post-meeting surveys. To reach a broader audience, our results will be published in journal articles and extension publications. We expect this research to increase the feasibility of high-density peach plantings in the Midwest, causing more growers to adopt these sustainable systems. This will increase growers’ production efficiency and enable more regional consumers to access and afford locally-produced peaches.
Project objectives from proposal:
Through this project, we will investigate how high-density, planar peach orchards can contribute to sustainable fruit production, inform the fruit-growers of our results, and learn what the stakeholders consider to be major barriers to adoption of high-density systems. Our research lays the foundation for addressing these barriers by determining how several known issues—high labor costs, non-uniform fruit ripening, and high vegetative vigor of peaches—can be reduced by using novel training styles and optimized natural branch angles. Combining this knowledge with research on the branch angles currently available in commercial peach cultivars will provide general and specific recommendations to growers. These recommendations can help growers make informed decisions when selecting cultivars and training styles, and we believe this will lead to increased adoption of high-density systems for peach production in the North Central Region. This will improve the sustainability of peach production by simultaneously increasing the economic viability and decreasing environmental impact through more efficient land and pesticide use. Increasing production and lowering costs will also enable more consumers to access affordable, fresh, nutritious peaches from their local growers, enhancing community well-being and further supporting North Central Region agriculture.