Innovative Tart Cherry Orchard Systems: Design, Evaluation, and Demonstration
The goal of this project is to design, evaluate and demonstrate innovative orchard systems for tart cherry production that reduce risk and environmental impact and sustain the economic viability of fruit growers and communities.
This project consists of three objectives:
1) To utilize a farmer-researcher-industry partnership to design solutions to cherry industry pest and production challenges within the context of holistic orchard management, sustainability and environmental stewardship,
2) To assess two alternative orchard management systems, and
3) To use orchard walks, learning circles and other interactive educational processes to examine the orchard management systems and practices and facilitate meaningful dialogue about holistic orchard management among the Michigan fruit production and processing community.
More than 75 percent of the U.S. tart cherry crop is produced in the Great Lakes Region, with a farm gate and value added worth ca $150 million per year. In the last decade northwest Michigan tart cherry growers have made significant reductions in the number of pesticide applications required to produce the high quality fruit demanded by the marketplace. Alternative systems based on ecological principles and the experience of innovative growers have the potential to further reduce fungicide, herbicide, insecticide and fertilizer applications while maintaining high yields and high fruit quality.
In 1996, the Michigan Cherry Industry and the Michigan Department of Agriculture provided seed money for the establishment of an experimental orchard near the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station (NWMHRS), an MSU managed facility developed and governed by fruit growers. The orchard was designed in consultation with the Northwest Michigan Integrated Fruit Practices Think Tank, a farmer-industry-researcher stewardship group, and continues to evolve based on their input. It compares two alternative management systems, Alternative Insect Management (AIM) and Permaculture (PER), with a conventional integrated pest management (IPM) system.
The AIM system uses mixed species hedgerows, alternative groundcovers, insect pheromone mating disruption, and other strategies like mass trapping to decrease pest abundance and increase biodiversity. The PER system uses reduced chemical inputs, cover crops and intercropped tree species to improve biodiversity and soil quality, and to provide income diversity. The six PER subplots range from a reduced input IPM system to a fully organic production system that features multiple tree-crops.
In 1999, all groundcover, fertilization, and tree-crop treatments were in place, and our focus was on obtaining tree physiology, soil quality, and groundcover data. We expect to begin insect, disease, and fruit sampling with the completion of the insect management treatments in 2000. Trees in the PER system are small, and have a greater incidence of mortality, due to reduced fungicide application. Two of the alternative cash crops, Siberian pea and sea buckthorn, were easily established and have not yet affected tart cherry growth. Black current has been more difficult to establish. All chemically fertilized treatments have similar soil quality characteristics. The compost-amended treatments have a lower pH, less soluble N, and slightly different soil biology. The project has been discussed during orchard walks and at numerous seminars throughout the year, and has been enthusiastically received by grower, industry, researcher, and community groups. In fact, the industry has requested that we pursue funding to establish a larger, on-farm, organic tart cherry production project to expand that aspect of this work.