BIFGA meeting explores the benefits of mechanical pruning at Sussex orchard

The benefits of mechanical pruning were demonstrated at this year's British Independent Fruit Growers' Association (BIFGA) AGM.

The event was held at CM Ra-mus & Sons' Barons Grange Farm - a family business where, unlike the majority of orchards in the UK, all of the trees are mechanically pruned.

Grower Charles Ramus gave delegates a tour around the farm, which grows around 40.5ha of Bramley, 32ha of Cox and 20ha of Jonagold for the processing, juice and wholesale markets.

The sight of the heavily-pruned trees prompted mixed reactions among the farm's visitors, some of whom described the trees as looking "more like bushes".

However, Ramus explained that the savings made by pruning mechanically helped the farm to balance its books. "We do things differently here. Every three years the trees get hammered with a chainsaw," he said.

"A lot of people do not like what we do but for the market we are in, and with our own packhouse for the wholesale markets and selling for the processing industry, this is the only way to do it. If we hand-pruned we would not make money."

The farm, which Ramus runs in partnership with his father, uncle and cousin, started pruning mechanically nine years ago when it acquired some 34ha of 30-year-old Cox trees from a neighbour.

The Cox trees had not been pruned in three years so the family invested in a French mechanical pruner named Kiron from supplier David Sale.

The machine, said Ramus, has a rotating saw that mounts onto a tractor and can prune 40.5ha in three weeks.

"When we took them over they had not been pruned for so long they were touching in the middle and we did not have a clue about dessert fruit. It was a very steep learning curve for us but what we do seems to have worked so far.

"The trees look very healthy and crop consistently at about nine or 10 tonnes an acre. It's what we would expect from 30-year-old trees that we spend very little money on. It works well for us in our market."

Ramus added that the trees are pruned in such a way as to make picking the fruit easier for his seasonal workers, who "strip everything from the trunk outwards".

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