Researchers hope shorter trees cut labor needs

05/05/2014 05:39:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

click image to zoomCourtesy University of California, DavisPeach and nectarine trees budded on dwarfing rootstock may allow workers to perform all of their management from the ground, eliminating ladders.In what may be a common-sense approach to address labor availability, University of California, Davis, researchers are testing whether shorter peach and nectarine trees are easier to harvest.

At the same time, they want to see whether the diminutive trees have the same fruit quality and yield as their larger counterparts, according to a news release.

The researchers are examining semi-dwarfing rootstocks in a 4-acre test orchard south of Fresno.

The goal is to develop a ladderless orchard, which could potentially reduce labor by 50 percent or more while at the same time improving worker safety.

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Ted DeJong and UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Kevin Day are leading the experiment.

The rootstocks, developed by UC Davis breeders, will produce trees that grow 7 to 8 feet tall and can be pruned and harvested from the ground.

With the right orchard management, the two researchers say they expect the shorter trees to produce the same quality fruit as their taller kin.

“Ladderless orchards would be huge for our industry,” Bill Chandler, who grows several varieties of peaches and nectarines near Selma, Calif., said in the release “There are so many costs associated with ladders that many growers are switching over to almonds just to stay in business. It costs me $1,400 an acre to thin our trees.”

Shorter trees are just one aspect of this multi-discipline project that examine best management practices.

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