Higher yields from apple trees
The main aim in fruit growing is to achieve regular, high yields of high-quality fruit, and to ensure rapidity of production. Another factor which is of great importance to the farmer is the productive life span of the plant. Through optimisation of the pruning procedure, all of these goals can be achieved. A fringe benefit of correct orchard management is that it also simplifies the process of fruit thinning in early summer. The physiological equilibrium of the tree, which also contributes to yield optimisation, can be attained through good pruning practices.
In South Tyrol, annual surveys provide information on the structure and production of agricultural companies and the results obtained. Associations such as the Südtiroler Bauernbund (South Tyrol Farmers' Association), Versuchszentrum Laimburg (Laimburg Research Centre) and Südtiroler Beratungsring (South Tyrol Advisory Board) supply farmers with this information. "The main goals in apple growing are regular yields and high quality of fruit,” explains Robert Wiedmer, coordinator of the South Tyrol Advisory Board for fruit and viticulture. “This is only possible if the trees grow in a peaceful atmosphere and are in physiological equilibrium. Tree pruning is of the utmost importance.” Alongside harvesting and manual fertilisation, pruning is one of the most time-consuming tasks in the apple industry. Does the effort pay off?
Manual vs. mechanical
Trees are generally pruned in winter, as it is more straightforward from a technical point of view. It is also easier to see the shape of the plant when it has no leave, which means that targeted pruning is more efficient. Like in the past, tree pruning in South Tyrol is mainly carried out by hand. However, observations of recent years demonstrate that mechanical pruning can be a valid alternative in certain situations.
Machines make work easier
The use of machinery in the fruit industry has increased as a result of the future-oriented approach to mechanisation and modernisation in orchard management; Mechanical pruning, thinning and weed control together with the use of robots during the harvest are measures which have been taken to simplify and speed up the work required. Shorter trees also lead to greater occupational safety and fewer work-related accidents.
Finding the right method
The most common system of apple cultivation in South Tyrol is currently the “slender spindle” method, whereby the trees are attached to a framework, which helps them to grow to a height of about 3.5 metres. The branches are trained into a conical form, which favours optimal uptake of sunlight, one of the most important requirements in maintaining the fertility of the plants and ensuring the best possible colour and quality of fruit.
Sunlight has a tremendous impact on the crop
In addition to water and correct pruning, sunlight is an essential factor in plant growth. When comparing a variety of cultivation methods, it can be observed that slender plant growth with limited areas of shade makes it easier for plants to absorb light. Numerous studies demonstrate that fruit yield per hectare can be increased significantly through optimal use of light.