Modified pruning intensity may reduce labor costs and improve profitability of growing dessert apple cultivars for cider production
Annual pruning of apple tree canopies is a common and recommended practice in commercial orchards. Pruning is performed to renew vegetative and reproductive wood, to improve sunlight and air penetration into the tree canopy, and to develop and maintain tree structure. However, annual pruning, particularly of relatively large, mature trees, is among the highest labor expense in orchards. In recent years, substantial growth in the production and sales of fermented cider has led to increased demand for fruit from cideries. While prices for traditional dessert cultivar fruit from cideries have increased, they remain uncompetitive with prices from the fresh fruit market for those same cultivars. In order to meet price points for cider apples, cost reductions are sought through reduced pruning intensity which may improve profitability, but may come at the sake of fruit quality or long-term crop yield. In this experiment, mature, freestanding 'McIntosh' and 'Empire' trees on semi-dwarf rootstock on two farms in Vermont received different pruning intensity and were evaluated for crop yield, fruit quality, net income, and juice characteristics important to cidermaking. There were few differences attributable to pruning treatment for most assessed parameters. Non-pruned trees had improved net income over pruned trees in both orchards, but all treatments showed negative profitability under a model where fruit were sold solely to cideries instead of to higher-valued fresh markets.
Bradshaw, T.L. and Foster, J. (2020). Modified pruning intensity may reduce labor costs and improve profitability of growing dessert apple cultivars for cider production. Acta Hortic. 1281, 243-250
Malus × domestica, juice quality, light interception, semi-dwarf orchards, market comparison