Fu­tur­is­tic tree de­signed

The Orchardist - - >>conference 2014 -

He heads a re­search team look­ing at new tree grow­ing sys­tems funded by an MBIE (Min­istry of Business, In­no­va­tion & Em­ploy­ment) Sci­ence and In­no­va­tion pro­gramme, Fu­ture Or­chard Plant­ing Sys­tems, which takes the idea of tree struc­tures back to first prin­ci­ples in an at­tempt to makes gains in yield.

Stu­art says cur­rently the best or­chards in New Zealand yield around 100 tonnes per hectare us­ing just over half of the avail­able light. Us­ing vastly dif­fer­ent grow­ing sys­tems which in­ter­cept 90% of the avail­able light could yield a the­o­ret­i­cal 169 tonnes per hectare.

The ap­ple “su­per or­chard” to cap­ture this much light will have a pla­nar two-di­men­sional sys­tem with trees planted close to­gether.

Stu­art says the first pro­to­type has 3 me­tres be­tween trees, and 1.5 or 2 me­tres be­tween the rows. There will be a tree den­sity of 1,667 to 2,222 trees per hectare, with 16,670 to 22,220 ver­ti­cal stems per hectare. The ver­ti­cal stems would be just 30 cen­time­tres apart in the row, with ver­ti­cal fruit­ing stems up to 3.5 me­tres high with no branch­ing.

“We don't care if con­ven­tional ma­chines won't work, this would be at the fore­front of a whole new pro­duc­tion sys­tem re­quir­ing new ma­chin­ery.” The bi-axis sys­tem pro­duces 30% more dry weight of fruit. Pro­to­type or­chards are be­ing planted in Hawke's Bay and Nel­son with var­i­ous ap­ple va­ri­eties, and the new Pre­var crunchy pear va­ri­ety Piqa Boo.

Re­search is also be­ing con­ducted into ways to make ex­ist­ing blocks highly pro­duc­tive. Royal Gala on M9 can be im­proved from 100 tonnes per hectare to 130 tonnes per hectare us­ing new tech­niques such as Ar­ti­fi­cial Spur Ex­tinc­tion. This is a new man­age­ment tech­nique that re­duces the num­ber of flower buds in the tree canopy. The process copies nat­u­ral bud abor­tion that oc­curs in ap­ple trees.

Other re­search is also be­ing car­ried out into dry mat­ter con­tent in fruit, to pro­mote bet­ter tast­ing fruit. The re­search project A Juicy Fu­ture is work­ing on tastier fruit pro­files, and the relation of sugar to acid and volatiles.

Re­mod­elling the ba­sic shape of an ap­ple tree to in­ter­cept more light could lead to vast gains in yield, Dr Stu­art Tustin, lead sci­en­tist at Plant & Food Re­search, be­lieves. “This would be at the fore­front of a whole new pro­duc­tion sys­tem re­quir­ing new ma­chin­ery.”

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