The fruit wall format for apple orchards brings savings on pruning of 40-60 per cent over conventional orchards by allowing the job to be done mechanically during the season. It also promises improved fruit colour and uniformity of size as well as increased yield, growers heard at an open day at a Horticultural Development Company trial of the format last week.
Adrian Scripps's Parsonage Farm in Cobham, near Gravesend in Kent, is one of two sites where the five-year trials are being conducted. Around 10ha of Gala, Braeburn and Kanzi varieties on M9 rootstock have been grown for the past two or three years.
The trials are being managed by Farm Advisory Services Team managing director Tim Biddlecombe, who said "a dozen or so" English growers are currently trying the format, with many more likely to adopt it as its advantages and best management practice become apparent.
"The system's pruning cost savings range from 40 to 60 per cent," he explained. "For (standard) intensive orchards, one man will take a week to prune about one hectare. A machine will do the same area in three-to-four hours - although you still have to hand-prune every other year because the branches get thick and grow between the trees."
The farm's production director Mark Holden said the fruit wall comprised much narrower A-shaped trees than normal, allowing row width to be reduced from a typical 3.75m for intensive orchards to 3.25m, but with the same spacing between trees of 0.8-1m depending on the variety.
The trial plot of Gala on M9 rootstock planted in November 2009 is being pruned with the farm's five-bladed circular saw four times during the season, at pink bud and six-, nineand 12-leaf stages, with comparison plots undergoing a conventional winter pruning regime.
Apart from the savings in labour, Holden said he expected the new format to also show increased yield of around 35-40 tonnes per hectare this year, as well as giving improved fruit colour and uniformity of size.
Fruit wall format Trials to continue
Horticultural Development Company knowledge transfer manager Scott Raffle said: "By running the trials over a long period we'll be able to determine the most suitable tree type, the best pruning timing and the affect of long-term mechanical pruning on tree vigour and yield.
"Some (continental) nurserymen have developed tree types for the system and we'll be looking at them in the trial being planted this winter."
The fruit wall system originated some 25 years ago in France but has since been adopted most widely in Belgium.