|Author: ||M.M. Blanke|
|Keywords: ||Malus × domestica, apple, compost, climate change, EUREP-GAP, food miles, hail net, honey bee, mechanical thinning, yield prediction|
Fruit orchards comprise an acreage of about 48,000 ha (5,850 ha organic) and apple orchards account for 31,000 ha in Germany with a crop of 800,000 t to 1 million t per year.
Fruit and apple consumption is 100 kg and 20 kg/person/year, respectively.
Apple varieties currently planted in Germany include ‘Braeburn’, ‘Gala’, ‘Fuji’ and ‘Pinova’, and ‘Topaz’ and ‘Santana’ in organic fruit orchards.
Orchards are commonly spaced at 3×1 m resulting in 3,000-3,500 trees/ha.
In recent years, fruit trees often flower earlier due to climate change with overhead sprinklers protecting them from late frosts.
The decrease in honey bee populations led to research into managing wild native, individual (non-hive) bee species such as Osmia and Andrena or the use of imported frozen pollen in small single-variety plots.
Research also examined alternatives to tar oil impregnated timber for tree stakes.
Alternative impregnation oils, non impregnated Robinia poles with wire trellis and recyclable plastic poles are being investigated for stability and durability.
Tree rows are usually treated with herbicides with research underway into organic mulching with shredded wood chippings from excavated apple trees, Miscanthus or communal plant-derived compost.
Breakeven farmgate prices vary from 0.32 €/kg class 1 ‘Jonagold’ apples to 0.37 €/kg for ‘Elstar’ apples.
Many research objectives are aimed at sustainability and conserving resources like soil and water and cutting costs, particularly labour cost.
Research is underway on mechanical thinning of apple flowers.
This may aid or supersede chemical thinning, which is currently restricted to 2-3 compounds with temperature dependent efficacy.
Hail nets are becoming more widespread due to increasing incidence of hail storms throughout the growing season.
Physiological effects of hail nets include reductions in sunburn, flower initiation, fruit yield and colouration as well as increases in vegetative growth and spider mite populations.
Research focuses on combating the light loss associated with hail nets using reflective mulches to overcome insufficient colouration in bi-coloured apple cultivars.
Research also addresses approaches to estimate and predict yield using image analysis or laser scanners which will supersede traditional approaches based on fruit counts.
New technology already provides non-invasive firmness and NIR-based sugar determination of apple fruit.
Research is underway on its extension to acidity and internal fruit disorders.
QS-GAP certification will supersede IP (Integrated Production) control practises.
Bar code or RF ID tags will enable traceability of fruit to their origin and require a database of orchard management practises.
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