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  • Author or Editor: David Zakalik x
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Over 3 years (2016–18), tree productivity, biennial bearing, return bloom, and fruit quality were evaluated for seven high-tannin cider apple (Malus ×domestica Borkh.) cultivars. Five treatments were evaluated on each of the seven cultivars: hand-thinned of all fruit (a zero crop load treatment); hand-thinned to crop densities of three, six, or nine fruit/cm2 trunk cross-sectional area (TCSA); or left unthinned. In this paper, we report on the fruit maturity and juice quality properties that were analyzed for the three nonzero crop load treatments and the unthinned control. The effects of crop load on fruit maturity, as measured by starch pattern index and preharvest drop, were cultivar dependent. Crop density (fruit/cm2 TCSA) had a significant effect on all fruit maturity and juice quality variables, although effects were weakest in the “off” year (2017) for the whole planting when initial fruit set was low. As crop density increased, total poly phenols, titratable acidity, soluble solids, and primary amino nitrogen decreased in the juice of all seven cultivars. A partial budget analysis indicated that the reduced costs of nitrogen supplements due to increased primary amino nitrogen concentration alone would not justify cost of chemical or hand-thinning. By extrapolating the spring flowering density in the fourth year to potential fruit yields at harvest, we found that reducing crop load was projected to increase cumulative total polyphenol yields per tree over the long term. For the cultivars in this experiment, a target crop density of nine fruit/cm2 was found to adequately decrease biennial bearing while also not diminishing juice quality for hard cider production. High-tannin cider apple growers should consider juice quality, particularly tannin production, when making crop load management decisions.

Open Access

Many European apple (Malus ×domestica Borkh.) cultivars used for making alcoholic cider have a highly biennial bearing habit. To determine target crop load recommendations, seven cider cultivars grown in a high-density orchard were hand-thinned to crop densities of 0, 3, 6, and 9 fruit/cm2 trunk cross-sectional area (TCSA) or left unthinned as a control for 3 consecutive years (2016–18). Treatments were imposed on the same trees for all 3 years. Greater year-to-year yield variability, as measured by the biennial bearing index (BBI), correlated negatively with cumulative yields both within and among cultivars. Greater crop density had a negative correlation with the amount of return bloom in all years, but reducing crop density had a negligible effect on return bloom in the “off” year. When trees were left unthinned in the high-crop “on” years there was little to no return bloom in the following year. Partial budget analysis found that manually reducing crop density would result in a positive net change in 3-year profitability for Dabinett, but not the other cultivars. Over 4 years, under conservative assumptions about fruit set, chemical thinning to 9 fruit/cm2 TCSA would likely result in increased cumulative profitability in all seven cultivars. Hand-thinning was projected to be less profitable than chemical thinning but would still result in increased net profitability over 4 years, for five of the seven cultivars. These findings highlight the horticultural and economic benefits of crop load management for cider apple orchards. Further, many high-tannin cider cultivars can sustain a higher crop density than what is recommended for fresh-market apple production and still have adequate return bloom and cumulative yields.

Open Access