By Matt McIntosh
New techniques and trends for the orchard
Science and creativity are critical tools for problem solving. For apple growers, these mutually-supportive characteristics have fostered more efficient production methods – from genetic tools to new orchard designs.
A New Look
Orchard trees have been traditionally planted in rows, the space between being large enough for the tree to fully develop in all directions. Once planted, it can take upwards of eight years for the trees to begin producing apples in quantities which growers can actually harvest and sell.
In recent years, though, many growers have been transitioning to “high-density” orchards in place of the iconic rows of fully-grown trees.
Reminiscent of vineyards, high-density orchards feature shorter trees with a more compact growth structure. These trees are planted much closer together than trees in traditional orchards, and in more compact rows. Growers can thus plant more apple trees on every acre. Doing so means more fruit on the same amount of land.
Trees in a high-density system also start producing fruit after a comparatively short period – as little as three years – and can be easier to manage both in season (pruning, pest control, etc.) as well as at harvest time.
High-density apple orchards are not without their downsides, however. The cost of establishing orchards in the traditional style, for example, is much, much cheaper than establishing a high-density one. High density systems also require more pruning and training and other management work. Still, this more modern production style continues to catch on for apples as well as other orchard crops.
Lean on me
The cornerstone of the high-density orchards is the trellis system, or a metal frame which encourages trees to grow upwards rather than outwards into other nearby trees. By growing up, each tree receives more light.
The frame also acts as a support, keeping trees which would otherwise have developed a thicker base from falling over – particularly once they are weighted down with ripened apples. To keep up the steady climb, growers attach new branches to the trellis as the tree grows.
To better manage the densely planted trees and the narrower rows between, and to ensure trellising continues once trees are too tall to reach, growers use height-adjustable platform machinery.
Shine a Light
It’s not all about the higher things in life, though. Back on the ground, and thanks to the more vineyard-like row style, reflective material (e.g. white fabric) can be laid between trees to make more use of sunlight.
By reflecting solar energy towards more of the tree, the colour of the fruit produced is more uniform – something which research suggests is more appealing to those consuming the fruit. It also allows growers to harvest a greater portion of the trees fruit simultaneously. That means more efficient production and lower harvest-related expenses.
Apples are one of the world most popular fruits, with some 7,500 different apple varieties actively cultivated today. Despite that number, breeders continue developing new varieties to address production and processing challenges, as well as peoples’ taste preferences.
One of those is the Arctic Apple – a Canadian variety developed in 2015.
The Arctic Apple is the trademark name of the first, and thus far only, commercial apple developed using biotechnology or genetic engineering. In this case, developers of the Arctic Apple were able to use parts of the apple’s own gene to turn off the enzyme that causes apples to turn brown when bitten, sliced, or bruised. The idea was to make apples more appealing to consumers, as well as more durable for processors and shippers, thereby reducing food waste.
Health Canada has deemed the Arctic Apple to be as safe as other apples currently on the market.
The Arctic Apple has been approved for cultivation and sale in both Canada and the U.S. It is primarily being sold in snack bags as sliced apples or dried apple chips in the U.S. They are not yet widely available in Canada.