- Fruits: apples, general tree fruits
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
Labor cost and availability are major challenges to apple growing in the Northeast. Partial or full mechanization can significantly reduce labor costs and increase farm incomes. Its adoption can also improve the quality of life of Northeastern fruit growers. Platforms can be used for: dormant pruning, hand thinning, building trellis, leader
selection, tree training, and summer pruning. The recent widespread adoption of the Tall Spindle apple system in the Northeast will provide continuing impetus to adoption of platforms. Our goal is to provide data of the impacts of mechanization on yield, fruit quality and labor costs and an economic analysis of the potential value of these techniques to improve profitability and sustainability. We propose to conduct on-farm research with cooperator Scott VanDeWalle who recently bought a platform and a hedger machine for his mature Tall Spindle apple trees.
We will simultaneously conduct an extension program targeting other fruit growers in Western NY who have not experienced the use of mechanization at their orchards. The NY State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva,NY recently purchased a side-wall shearing machine and a platform for use in research and extension. We will expose growers to these new technologies by organizing demonstration plots on grower farms. By the end of this project, more fruit growers will understand that mechanization is a way to keep up with the competition as labor costs rise and the supply of workers gets tighter every year. Growers will contain much better their production costs over the next 5-10 years.
Project objectives from proposal:
We believe that there are still opportunities to further reduce pruning and fruit thinning costs and improve profitability and sustainability of the Tall Spindle by incorporating mechanization strategies into the management plan.
The mature canopy of the Tall Spindle is 10-11 feet tall which requires the use of ladders to prune the canopy. Labor positioning platforms can eliminate the use of ladders for winter pruning, summer pruning and fruit thinning. However, the machines are expensive and the economics of the cost/benefit of factory produced platforms vs. farmer built platforms is not clear. A second approach to reduce labor costs is the use of side-wall shearing machines for summer pruning. This approach was tried in the 1970’s with large, vigorous apple trees but results were not successful since the trees responded with vigorous growth. However, the Tall Spindle system utilizes dwarfing rootstocks and has a very narrow canopy and weak shoot growth that could be successfully sheared.
We will conduct on-farm trials with grower Scott VanDeWalle who recently bought a platform and a side-wall shearing machine. We propose to conduct one dormant pruning, one summer pruning, and one fruit thinning trial at his farm located in Alton, NY. This project will use his new platform to collect on-farm data on the savings in labor for dormant pruning and fruit thinning and conduct an analysis of the impact of orchard profitability of using a platform. We will also use his new tractor and his new hedger machine to determine the proper timing and severity for canopy side-wall shearing of Tall Spindle apple trees. We will also collect on-farm data on the savings for summer pruning and conduct an analysis of the impact of orchard profitability of using a hedger.
We will conduct a strong outreach program targeting other fruit growers in Western NY who have not experienced the use of partial mechanization at their orchards. The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station recently purchased a side-wall shearing machine and a platform for use in research and extension. We will expose growers to these new technologies by organizing demonstration plots (no replicated) on grower farms of dormant pruning/fruit thinning with platforms and summer side-wall shearing and using those plots as venues for workshops and field days.
This project will provide the apple industry with solid data on the horticultural impacts of these techniques and economic analysis of the potential value of these techniques to improve orchard profitability. If the use of platforms can reduce dormant pruning costs by 25-30% it will have a significant impact on profitability. If side-wall shearing in the summer can reduce summer pruning costs by 70% or more, and improve fruit color without negative effects on return bloom or vigorous growth response, it will also have a significant impact on orchard profitability.
Both of these techniques could help the NY Apple industry improve efficiency and remain competitive in the world apple market.