North Country ag research program helping apple orchards achieve better yields
Sunday, September 8, 2013 - 6:02 pm

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, which includes producers in St. Lawrence County, is working on orchard improvement research and grower education to improve fruit quality through systems management, orchard thinning, and irrigation techniques.

“Controlling the final fruit number on an apple tree is a critical process for profitable fruit growers,” says Cornell University Professor Terence Robinson. “Only 3 to 10 percent of the initial flowers and fruitlets should be carried to harvest for the best economic value.”

Robinson and his research team have developed a thinning technique to help growers prevent too many fruits from reducing apple size and yield.

The team demonstrated the use of motorized platforms for hand thinning orchards, as well as use of mechanized sidewall shearing.

“Dr. Robinson has had trials comparing four different growing systems in our orchards since 2002. His research work has been the clearest indicator of what types of systems work best for our operation. He has calculated the best return on investment for the different systems and that has helped us and all the growers in the region,” grower Tom Everett says.

The apple research has also focused on the development of an irrigation calculation model to help growers boost crops during dry years.

Robinson says. “Until now the amount of irrigation has been estimated by ‘feel.’ Over the last decade we have developed a model for estimating the amount of water needed each day or week in young, medium and old apple orchards. In dry seasons, growers need to add precision irrigation to precision thinning to assure good fruit size and protect crop value.”

Once the fall 2013 harvest is complete Robinson will evaluate the data on fruit set, size, quality, and yield, and calculate gross crop value for the apples.

The results will be presented to growers at the Cornell Winter Fruit School in February 2014 and reported in a 2014 issue of the NY Fruit Quarterly Magazine.

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