Researchers tap dwarfing rootstocks for 'ladderless' orchard

08/11/2014 09:42:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

click image to zoomVicky BoydDwarfing peach and nectarine rootstocks developed by the University of California, Davis, could eliminate the need for ladders and improve harvest efficiency.Ladders could be a thing of the past for peach and nectarine harvest crews based on a new test orchard being developed near Parlier, Calif.

The 4-acre trial enlists dwarfing rootstocks as part of a larger, integrated experiment on various components of peach and nectarine production, according to a news release.

If the results come to fruition, the shorter trees could save growers 50 percent or more in labor coasts as well as improve worker safety.

The work is being led by Ted DeJong, a plant physiology professor at the University of California, Davis, and Kevin Day, a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Tulare County.

Conventional peach and nectarine trees grow about 13 feet tall.

But new rootstocks developed by UC Davis will produce trees about 7-8 feet tall that can be pruned and harvested from the ground.

With proper orchard management, the shorter trees could produce just as much fruit as their taller kin.

"Ladderless orchards would be huge for our industry," Bill Chandler, who grows several varieties of peaches and nectarines on his 250-acre Chandler Farms in Selma, 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 part of the overall research project, which explores best management practices, fertilization, irrigation and pruning practices.

The group will plant the orchard in spring 2015 and should have preliminary data by 2016.

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