Adopting fruit-wall orchards instead of traditional orchard systems, could make mechanising pruning of apple trees easier for growers and help reduce costs, latest AHDB Horticulture research finds.
Uncertainties about the fruit industry’s ability to source seasonal workers following Brexit and an increase in labour costs means there’s a sharper focus than ever on finding ways to mitigate the industry’s reliance on human labour.
Modern intensive orchards are already simpler and easier to prune than traditionally planted ones but it can still take between 25 and 40 hours of labour per hectare. In fruit-wall orchards, mechanical pruning work rates vary between 1.5 and 2.5 hours per hectare, so even though some hand-pruning will be needed, there is potential to save around £3,000 per hectare over an orchard’s 15-year life.
Mark Holden, from Adrian Scripps Ltd and industry representative of the project, said: “The cost of labour is inevitability increasing due to the rises in the minimum wage. Also, there is a potential shortage of a quality workforce in the future, therefore I am keen to explore how we can get the best from mechanisation. Another key target is improving the consistency and quality of the fruit from tree to tree in the orchards. Mechanical pruning was identified as, potentially, one way to achieve both these goals.”
AHDB Horticulture has spent the last four years investigating the tree types and pruning regimes most suitable for use in a fruit-wall orchard in the UK in two projects. Recommendations have been generated from one of the projects about pruning timing for growers who are working with fruit-wall orchards and include:
“The results have demonstrated that there is a place for mechanical pruning, but as a complement to, and not a substitute for, hand pruning. The decisions on mechanical pruning must also reflect the growing season and will need to be targeted on certain varieties and appropriate orchards to have the most benefit,” added Mr Holden.
An update from the research projects will be presented at the AHDB/EMR Association Tree Fruit Conference, which takes place on 28 February at NIAB EMR, Kent. Growers can book onto the event by visiting horticulture.ahdb.org.uk/events
Fruit wall planting materials trial