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  • Author or Editor: J.R. Schupp x
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Hand thinning is a necessary but costly management practice in peach (Prunus persica) production. Organic apple (Malus ×domestica) production also may require hand thinning to adjust crop load. Mechanical devices to aid in thinning have been developed, but none has proven highly efficient and capable of completely replacing hand thinning. Narrow canopy training systems and novel peach tree growth habits offer new opportunities to examine mechanical methods for thinning peach and apple trees. Our studies evaluated mechanical thinning devices on peach and organically grown apple trees. In 2005 and 2006, a U.S Department of Agriculture-designed spiked-drum shaker was used to thin pillar (columnar) peach trees at 52 to 55 days after full bloom. The drum shaker, driven at two different speeds in the orchard, reduced crop load an average of 58% and follow-up hand thinning time by 50%, and increased fruit size by 9% at harvest compared with conventional hand-thinned or nonthinned control trees in 2005. In 2006, the shaker was driven at one speed but operated at two different frequencies. At 260 cycles/minute, the drum shaker removed more fruit and reduced crop load to a greater extent than when operated at 180 cycles/minute, however, fruit size at harvest did not differ between the two operating frequencies. The drum shaker reduced follow-up hand thinning time between 54% and 81%. Horticultural and economic evaluations of the drum shaker and/or a German-designed blossom string thinner were conducted in 2007 in four commercial peach orchards trained to a perpendicular V or quad V system and an organic apple block trained to a narrow vertical axis system. Mechanical thinners reduced peach crop load by an average of 36%, decreased follow-up hand thinning time by 20% to 42%, and increased fruit in higher market value size categories by 35%. The net economic impact of mechanical thinning versus hand thinning alone ranged from $175/ha to $1966/ha. Mechanical thinning at 20% full bloom resulted in more fruit in the large size categories (2.75 inches in diameter and larger) than thinning at 80% full bloom. Detailed counts of flowers on branches with different orientations indicated that pruning may be adjusted to improve thinner performance. The string thinner effectively thinned dwarf apple trees trained to a vertical axis system in a certified organic orchard, resulting in a reduction in hand thinning time and an increase in fruit size. Based on our tests, mechanical thinning appears to be a promising technique for supplementing hand thinning in apple and peach trees.

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Control of bitter pit in `Honeycrisp' apples (Malus ×domestica) from trees treated during the growing season with foliar sprays of trifloxystrobin fungicide and calcium was evaluated in four replicated trials over 2 years. All trials were in commercial orchards of `Honeycrisp' trees that were 3 to 6 years old. The effectiveness of combining boron with foliar applications of calcium chloride (CaCl2) was evaluated in two trials, and effectiveness of harpin protein, used either alone or in alternating sprays with CaCl2 was assessed in one trial. Trifloxystrobin applied twice during the 30 days before harvest reduced bitter pit incidence at harvest in one of the four trials, but the reduction was transitory, no longer being evident when fruit were re-evaluated after 63 days of cold storage. Harpin protein did not affect disorder incidence. Calcium sprays failed to control bitter pit in treatments where the total elemental calcium applied was less than 2.7 lb/acre (3.03 kg·ha–1) per year for tree canopies that were sprayed to drip using 100 gal/acre (935.4 L·ha–1) of spray solution. In the two trials where some treatments involved application of at least 2.9 lb/acre (3.25 kg·ha–1) of elemental calcium per season, the incidence of fruit with bitter pit at harvest was reduced by 76% to 90%. Effectiveness of calcium sprays for bitter pit control was not enhanced by superimposing trifloxystrobin, boron, or harpin protein treatments. Flesh firmness at harvest was lower in calcium-treated than in non-treated fruit, and fruit maturity was more advanced on trees receiving boron sprays than on trees receiving no boron. In one trial, where the first calcium application was made approximately 2 weeks after petal fall and 4 days prior to a fruit thinning spray, crop load of trees that received calcium sprays, measured as number of fruit per cm2 trunk cross-sectional area, was 38% greater than on trees that received no calcium sprays. CaCl2 provided better control of bitter pit in `Honeycrisp' than any of the other materials tested.

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Hand thinning of fruit is among the most labor-intensive orchard practices and consequently contributes significantly to peach (Prunus persica) production costs. Research reported in 2008 on a string blossom thinner for vertical tree canopies demonstrated that this new mechanical method has potential to favorably impact grower profitability by reducing labor requirement and by improving fruit size and quality. A string thinner prototype for open-center tree canopies was tested in six orchards in 2008. Peach blossom removal in upper canopy regions ranged from 23% to 69% with the new string thinner oriented in a horizontal or inclined position to thin the tops of vase-shaped trees. Optimal thinning with the horizontal string thinner was with a 2.0 km·h−1 tractor speed, reducing peach crop load by an average of 47%, reducing follow-up hand thinning time 32%, and increasing fruit in higher market size categories 22% to 31%. Net economic impact (realized economic savings) of mechanical thinning at 2.0 km·h−1 versus hand thinning alone ranged from $799 to $911 per hectare. Total yield was sometimes reduced by string thinner treatments; however, high-market-value yields were comparable across treatments. Two combination treatments—mechanical thinning followed by hand blossom thinning and thinning with a horizontal followed by a vertical string thinner—suggested additional strategies for achieving the most desirable thinning results.

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Hand thinning is a necessary and costly management practice in peach (Prunus persica) production. Stone fruit producers are finding it increasingly difficult to find a workforce to manually thin fruit crops, and the cost of farm labor is increasing. A new “hybrid” string thinner prototype designed to adjust crop load in vase or angled tree canopies was evaluated in processing and fresh fruit plantings in varying production systems in four U.S. growing regions in 2009. Data were uniformly collected across regions to determine blossom removal rate, fruit set, labor required for follow-up green fruit hand thinning, fruit size distribution at harvest, yield, and economic impact. String thinner trials with the variable tree forms demonstrated reduced labor costs compared with hand-thinned controls and increased crop value due to a larger distribution of fruit in marketable and higher market value sizes. Blossom removal ranged from 17% to 56%, hand thinning requirement was reduced by 19% to 100%, and fruit yield and size distribution improved in at least one string-thinning treatment per experiment. Net economic impact at optimum tractor and spindle speeds was $462 to $1490 and $264 to $934 per acre for processing and fresh market peaches, respectively. Case study interviews of growers who thinned a total of 154 acres indicated that commercial adoption of string-thinning technology would likely have positive impacts on the work place environment.

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Cultivar and planting site are two factors that often receive minimal attention, but can have a significant impact on the quality of apple (Malus ×domestica) produced. A regional project, NE-183 The Multidisciplinary Evaluation of New Apple Cultivars, was initiated in 1995 to systematically evaluate 20 newer apple cultivars on Malling.9 (M.9) rootstock across 19 sites in North America. This paper describes the effect of cultivar and site on fruit quality and sensory attributes at a number of the planting sites for the 1998 through 2000 growing seasons. Fruit quality attributes measured included fruit weight, length: diameter ratio, soluble solids concentration (SSC), titratable acidity (TA), flesh firmness, red overcolor, and russet. Fruit sensory characteristics rated included crispness, sweetness, and juiciness, based on a unipolar intensity scale (where 1 = least and 5 = most), and acidity, flavor, attractiveness, and desirability based on a bipolar hedonic scale (where 1 = dislike and 5 = like extremely). All fruit quality and sensory variables measured were affected by cultivar. The two-way interaction of cultivar and planting site was significant for all response variables except SSC, TA, russet, crispness, and sweetness ratings. The SSC: TA ratio was strongly correlated with sweetness and acidity sensory rating, but was weakly correlated with flavor rating. The results demonstrate that no one cultivar is ideally suited for all planting sites and no planting site is ideal for maximizing the quality of all apple cultivars.

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