Cranberry beds typically are planted by using unrooted vines that are pressed directly into the soil using a disc with multiple rotating heads. Once planted, beds are maintained in production for at least 20 years. The development of new cultivars and the increased need for economic efficiency has encouraged the development of alternative business plan models for Massachusetts cranberry growers, including the establishment of new beds and more frequent replanting of existing beds. However, both activities as currently practiced have extended payback periods. Using vines produced on-farm can shorten the payback period for the cranberry grower. Therefore, many growers are evaluating the costs and benefits of pruning existing beds on their own farms to provide the vines (runners) that can be used to establish or replant cranberry beds.
Several variables combine to complicate the issues surrounding choosing planting stock and determining crop performance when planting new cranberry vines. Many cultivars of cranberry are available (Caruso, 2008), but cranberry vines cannot be purchased from certified nurseries as identifiable genetic stock as is the case with many other small fruit (Buonassisi et al., 1989; California Department of Food and Agriculture, 2008). Vines are moved within and between states without inspection and verification of pest status (especially weed seeds) or cultivar. These factors combine to increase the potential of genetic diversity for vines that may physically appear to be the same cultivar but may not actually be the cultivar that is named in the purchase. Researchers have characterized cranberry cultivars by genetic fingerprint technology (Novy et al., 1996; Vorsa and Novy, 1995) and have confirmed that established beds may comprise several genetic variants, primarily due to volunteer seedlings becoming established over the life of a cranberry bed. Anecdotal evidence indicates that volunteer seedlings often possess less desirable characters such as reduced productivity and fruit rot susceptibility. Growers who purchase vines from external sources must consider these potential problems and strive to ensure that they receive a reliable product.
Cranberries are pruned for many reasons (Sandler and DeMoranville, 2008), including removing excess vegetative growth to facilitate the use of dry harvesting equipment, to improve aeration in the canopy to minimize the growth of fruit rot fungi (Caruso and Ramsdell, 1995) and to increase light penetration to promote development of fruit color (Suhayda, 2008). Early experiments in New Jersey showed improvements in yield in the first or second year following pruning (Chambers, 1918); subsequent studies reported that severe pruning decreased upright density and flower bud production (Doehlert, 1955). Although research has documented various aspects of pruning cranberry vines, none have assessed the economic risks and benefits of pruning vines in combination with fertilizer regimes for the purpose of using the vines for replanting within an individual's farm.
The decision to dedicate portions of an active cranberry farm to vine propagation can be motivated by several reasons. First, external sources of vines can be costly, therefore growers may want to renovate and replant with their own vines to save money. Second, some growers have reduced management inputs to a portion of their properties to remain economically solvent. These beds may not be profitable for fruit production, but growers may be able to generate additional income through selling vines. In such instances, growers may find the commercial resale of vines to other growers more profitable than managing the farms for fruit production. Third, new cultivars are being released that contain desirable characteristics such as high yield, improved color, and/or enhanced health-related components (Integrity Propagation, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c; Kresty et al., 2008; McCown and Zeldin, 2003). Growers may opt to plant these new cultivars into nursery beds and maximize vine propagation. Last, as mentioned above, the lack of certified propagators for most cranberry cultivars may further motivate growers to use a known source of planting stock.
The objectives of this research were to evaluate the interaction of nitrogen rate and pruning severity on vine propagation and yield components of cranberry, to evaluate economic costs and benefits of these practices, and to develop recommendations for growers who wish to use nursery beds for vine propagation and/or fruit production.
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