Supplier group advised on securing best orchard returns

Proper ground preparation is key to ensure a lasting return from new orchards, Hutchinsons agronomist and Norton Cider Growers director Nigel Kitney told of members of the supplier group meeting at one of its Gloucestershire orchards last week.

Nigel Kitney (left)
Nigel Kitney (left)

"Growers don't spend enough time and money on site preparation," he said. "My advice is to prepare with 12-18 months of grass to boost soil structure, followed by mole ploughing and drainage. And for the best results, the only way to plant trees is by hand."

"My failure to thoroughly subsoil and drain one small area before planting has led to a sustained 50 per cent reduction in yield from those trees compared with those in better-drained soils."

Kitney has also been conducting trials on tree-planting density, fertiliser rates, pruning strategy and rootstock choice. On the latter, he said: "I've found the 111 rootstock trees with a small section of M9 interstem have given me 25 per cent more yield than those without."

The Gloucestershire site also hosts trials on soil-applied fertiliser, residual nitrogen monitoring and routine mechanical pruning.

Hutchinsons horticulture director Mike Hutchinson added: "Long-term supply contracts and relationships with the increasing number of boutique cider producers are giving growers the confidence to invest in trees and infrastructure. However, tight margins mean that the technicalities of growing are fundamental to profitability."

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