The ap­ple sit­u­a­tion in Chile

Re­cently I was in­vited to at­tend a sem­i­nar on the fu­ture of the ap­ple and cherry in­dus­tries in Chile.

The Orchardist - - Orchard Management - By John Wil­ton

The sem­i­nar was spon­sored by the Po­manova group. This is an in­de­pen­dent or­gan­i­sa­tion con­sist­ing mainly of tech­ni­cal peo­ple in­volved in the fruit grow­ing in­dus­try. It in­cludes con­sul­tants, univer­sity teach­ing and re­search per­son­nel work­ing with tree fruit crops, com­pany field rep­re­sen­ta­tives and pro­gres­sive lead­ing fruit grow­ers.

The pur­pose of this sem­i­nar was to in­form ap­ple and cherry grow­ers of the present sit­u­a­tion of their in­dus­try, ex­pose them to up to date grow­ing tech­niques, fore­cast fu­ture pro­duc­tion and the chal­lenges fac­ing them in re­gard to mar­kets. It was a very in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me be­cause of the con­trast in the for­tunes of the two in­dus­tries. Ap­ples there are a ma­ture

in­dus­try in de­cline, whereas cher­ries are a boom­ing in­dus­try un­der­go­ing a very rapid ex­pan­sion. The cher­ries re­minded me of our ki­wifruit in­dus­try back in the 1980s.

This month we will look at ap­ples.


As far as I can as­cer­tain, ap­ple area and pro­duc­tion peaked around 2010 at 38,000 hectares, pro­duc­ing 1.624 mil­lion tonnes. By 2015, area has fallen back to 34,500 hectares, al­though there is some opinion that it could be as low as 30,000 hectares now and the fore­cast for 2020 is 29,000 hectares. Again, some are fore­cast­ing con­sid­er­ably less, per­haps as low as 21,000 hectares. Pro­duc­tion in 2015 was 1.482 mil­lion tonnes of which about 700,000 tonnes were ex­ported.

Gala (Royal Gala for us) is now their main va­ri­ety with 15,000 hectares planted. The area in Gala is sta­ble but as else­where there is a move to im­proved red strains.

Red De­li­cious has suf­fered a dra­matic fall. In 2010 it oc­cu­pied 37% of the planted area.

Among the ap­ple va­ri­eties they grow, Cripps Pink is the va­ri­ety best adapted to their grow­ing con­di­tions be­cause it was bred and se­lected in a sim­i­lar cli­mate to the main pro­duc­tion area in Chile. Most of the Cripps Pink plant­ings are the orig­i­nal strain, con­se­quently while it yields well for them, achiev­ing Pink Lady ® spec­i­fi­ca­tion is dif­fi­cult for them due to poor colour. The red strains, mainly Rosy Glow, are avail­able but grow­ers have been slow to re-work Cripps Pink to the red strains. This is be­cause the per­for­mance of Cripps Pink is gen­er­ally bet­ter than other va­ri­eties so pri­or­ity is given to graft­ing them over, rather than Cripps Pink.

Red strains of the Gala group be­ing planted in­clude Buck­eye (a dark red Wash­ing­ton strain which is too dark for us), Galaval, Ju­gala and oth­ers in­clud­ing Brook­field. Other va­ri­eties in­clude Honey Crisp ® , Swee Tango ® , Envy™, Am­brosia™, Jazz™ and Kanzi™. The more heat sen­si­tive of th­ese va­ri­eties tend to be grown in the south. They are phas­ing out of stan­dard Fuji, which used to be grown as a bagged prod­uct, aim­ing at the up­per end “niche” mar­kets in Asia. Chilean labour costs now make bag­ging Fuji a doubt­ful propo­si­tion. Their two main red Fuji strains are Raku­raku and Fubrax (Kiku ® ). Nei­ther of th­ese match our bet­ter coloured Fuji Supreme or Aztec.


Most of the Chilean ap­ple pro­duc­tion is found in the cen­tral val­ley be­tween Rancagua in the north and Chillan in the south. This area

has a Mediter­ranean cli­mate with cold, wet win­ters and hot dry sum­mers. There are any­where be­tween six and 50 days be­tween De­cem­ber and March with day tem­per­a­tures ex­ceed­ing 29°C for five hours or more. With global cli­mate change, the in­ci­dence of hot days is in­creas­ing. Be­cause of th­ese cli­matic prob­lems, a sig­nif­i­cant amount of the crop is un­suit­able for pack­ing.

As the num­ber of hot days in­crease, it is prob­a­ble that sun­burn and colour prob­lems will in­crease. High tem­per­a­tures also limit fruit growth and for ear­lier har­vested va­ri­eties lead to a sec­ond growth flush in the au­tumn once tem­per­a­tures cool down. There is a lot of re­search in Chile go­ing into meth­ods for ad­dress­ing th­ese prob­lems.

Re­flec­tive mulch, us­ing dis­pos­able foil which is said to cost around US$50 per hectare is quite widely used to im­prove fruit colour. They have also done a lot of work with nets to re­duce light lev­els. Black nets are used for Granny Smith. Th­ese nets are put out in the sec­ond half of Novem­ber to min­imise their ad­verse ef­fect on fruit re­ten­tion and cell divi­sion. For coloured va­ri­eties, grey net is con­sid­ered the best, fol­lowed by white.

In their high temperature con­di­tions, a lot of em­pha­sis is given to ven­ti­la­tion and air move­ment un­der the net to pre­vent higher tem­per­a­tures build­ing up un­der the net. There has to be a good gap be­tween the nets over the be­tween row area to al­low good air move­ment.


The fruit in­dus­try is find­ing it hard to com­pete with other in­dus­tries for labour. Labour costs have also been ris­ing

rapidly in re­cent years. Ten years ago, or­chard wages were in the re­gion

of US$2.00 per hour. Now they are around US$5.00 per hour.

It would ap­pear they have not given much fo­cus to re­duc­ing or­chard hus­bandry labour costs. For ex­am­ple, the num­ber of hours spent on win­ter prun­ing has not changed and sum­mer prun­ing hours have gone up. Hand thin­ning times have gone down due to im­proved chem­i­cal thin­ning but they are still high by our stan­dards. Most of the other labour tasks on the or­chard ap­pear to have in­creased. With the huge in­crease in labour re­quire­ment that is com­ing from the ex­pand­ing cherry crop, re­ferred to as the “red suname” for har­vest­ing in late Novem­ber through to early Jan­uary, ap­ples are un­der real pres­sure for hand thin­ning labour. Con­se­quently, ap­ple hand thin­ning is be­ing de­layed un­til af­ter the cherry har­vest which is Jan­uary and early

Fe­bru­ary. Not the best time to be thin­ning ap­ples in a hot cli­mate.

Their labour force is be­com­ing unionised which has the in­dus­try

very wor­ried.

In gen­eral, there is also a move­ment away from very labour in­ten­sive fresh mar­ket crops to­wards those where har­vest can be mech­a­nised. Nut crops such as wal­nuts and par­tic­u­larly hazel­nuts. In the last few years, 20,000 hectares of hazel­nuts have been planted be­tween Curico and Talca and it is an­tic­i­pated that this area will con­tinue to ex­pand to­wards 50,000 hectares. In the south, there is a trend away from labour in­ten­sive fresh mar­ket blue­ber­ries to pro­cessed blue­ber­ries than can be me­chan­i­cally har­vested.


As with New Zealand, there are a di­verse range of grow­ing sys­tems to be found in Chilean ap­ple or­chards. The trend in re­cent years has been away from semi-in­ten­sive plant­ings on higher vigour root­stocks, to­wards in­ten­sive plant­ings on pre­co­cious dwarf­ing root­stocks, mainly Malling 9.

It is es­ti­mated that around 30% of the present ap­ple area is poor per­form­ing and in need of re-devel­op­ment. Th­ese or­chards are old, planted with poorly per­form­ing va­ri­eties or clones, such as poor strains of Royal Gala which fail to colour, stan­dard Fuji, Red De­li­cious or Granny Smith and poorly colour­ing Cripps Pink. Many of th­ese or­chards are on MM111, MM106 or even seedling root­stocks. Dur­ing the 1980s and even later, many Chilean or­chards were planted on seedling root­stocks. Seedling root­stocks be­cause of their tree to tree vari­abil­ity and sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to woolly ap­ple aphid present many pro­duc­tion chal­lenges.

Be­cause their ap­ple in­dus­try has fallen on hard times in re­cent years, re­de­vel­op­ment of th­ese poorer or­chards has been slow. The ap­ple in­dus­try is short of funds for re­de­vel­op­ment, con­sid­ered high risk, so where there are funds for re­de­vel­op­ment the pref­er­ence is to pull the ap­ples out and re­place them with a more prof­itable crop, usu­ally cher­ries.

In­ci­den­tally, pears and par­tic­u­larly ki­wifruit are also in de­cline. The lat­ter be­cause of vine health and cli­mate re­lated prob­lems. Psa has been a huge prob­lem for them, even with Hay­ward due to the high lev­els of stress the vines suf­fer and win­ter chill in­jury.


The more pro­gres­sive grow­ers who see a long term fu­ture in ap­ples are re­de­vel­op­ing their ap­ple or­chards. The goal is to lift pro­duc­tion to 70 tonnes per hectare, ex­port 70% of this pro­duc­tion and achieve 70% of the ex­port pack­out to be class 1 ex­tra fancy.

Where ex­ist­ing or­chards are suit­able, graft­ing is the pre­ferred op­tion be­cause it is a rel­a­tively low cost way of chang­ing va­ri­ety com­pared to re­plant­ing. Al­though graft­ing is a rel­a­tively low cost, my ob­ser­va­tion was that they were rel­a­tively slow to graft over pro­duc­ing Cripps Pink blocks to im­proved red strains even though pack­out of class 1 Pink Lady ® was rel­a­tively low at ap­prox­i­mately 50% and be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult due to ris­ing colour re­quire­ments. Usu­ally their Cripps Pink blocks were their best per­form­ing ap­ple blocks in re­gards to crop­ping so they were re­luc­tant to graft them over, while they still had other poorly per­form­ing va­ri­eties to deal with.

Those with ac­cess to pre­mium va­ri­eties, usu­ally “club” va­ri­eties such as Honey Crisp ® (only in the south), SweeTango ® , Envy™, Jazz™, Kanzi™ and Am­brosia™, were re­de­vel­op­ing to th­ese va­ri­eties. Other op­tions were very high colour Royal Gala strains, e.g. Buck­eye, high colour Fuji, Raku­raku or Fubrax and Rosy Glow.

As here, dou­ble or mul­ti­leader tree struc­ture rather than sin­gle leader was pop­u­lar for graft­ing or­chard re­de­vel­op­ment. The ben­e­fit of train­ing grafted trees to mul­ti­leader struc­ture is that with this ap­proach, it is pos­si­ble to in­ten­sify a semi­in­ten­sive mod­er­ate den­sity plant­ing.

As they have not had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence yet with many of th­ese new va­ri­eties, only rel­a­tively small per­cent­ages of the

ap­ple area was be­ing changed to newer va­ri­eties. New plant­ings, as here, are on dwarf­ing, pre­co­cious root­stocks, usu­ally M9. Some nurs­eries were prop­a­gat­ing dou­ble leader trees and knip­boom trees as well as the sim­ple one year old sin­gle leader usu­ally pro­duced by our nurs­eries.

Typ­i­cal plant­ing den­si­ties for a spindle­bush style tree planted as a well de­vel­oped feathered knip­boom tree are 2,200 to 2,850 plants per hectare or for a colum­nar tree, 3,300 to 4,100 plants per hectare. Bixis dou­ble leader trees would be planted at lower tree den­si­ties, per­haps 1,650 to 2,050 trees per hectare. Pro­duc­tion from dou­ble leader Royal Gala was men­tioned by one pre­sen­ter to be in the range of seven to 14 tonnes per hectare in the sec­ond leaf which is con­sid­ered quite good un­der their con­di­tions.


Rel­a­tive to New Zealand, the Chilean cli­mate is mar­ginal for grow­ing ap­ples bred in tem­per­ate cli­mates due to the pe­ri­ods of high tem­per­a­tures they have dur­ing sum­mer. Sun­burn and heat stress are big prob­lems for ap­ple va­ri­eties se­lected in our cli­mate. Warm nights dur­ing the Royal Gala har­vest pe­riod means that only the su­per red sports are giv­ing ad­e­quate colour un­der their con­di­tions.

Fuji has been a prob­lem va­ri­ety for them. It is har­vested later in the au­tumn and as with Royal Gala, ob­tain­ing sat­is­fac­tory fruit colour be­fore fruit ma­tu­rity ad­vances too much for good post-har­vest stor­age per­for­mance is dif­fi­cult. Fuji of­ten reaches high sugar lev­els be­fore there is suf­fi­cient colour to har­vest and if rain oc­curs prior to har­vest when brix lev­els are high, crack­ing in the stem end cavity spoils many ap­ples. At har­vest and im­me­di­ately af­ter har­vest, th­ese cracks are not vis­i­ble but af­ter a few weeks of stor­age, they ap­pear. This prob­lem can be min­imised if the fruit is able to be har­vested be­fore the au­tumn rains ar­rive or fruit brix lev­els have not ex­ceeded 14°.

Fog in au­tumn, win­ter and spring is a fea­ture of the cen­tral val­ley cli­mate. Light spring frosts may also oc­cur in some sea­sons. Fog in the au­tumn over the leaf fall pe­riod pro­vides ideal con­di­tions for Euro­pean Canker in­fec­tion. I have ac­tu­ally seen Euro­pean Canker in­fec­tion as far north as or­chards on the south­ern edge of San­ti­ago. This trip it was alive and well in one Scilate block I was shown.

Rus­set can be a prob­lem with Fuji and Scilate. In the case of Scilate, rus­set can be a big prob­lem in young or­chards when most of the fruit is from aux­il­iary bud of one year wood sites. How­ever, I got the im­pres­sion rus­set con­tin­ued to be an is­sue in older or­chards too. This points to ei­ther frost or fog as the cul­prit. Data we have for New Zealand links in­creased rus­set in­ci­dence with fruit wet­ness ap­prox­i­mately 15 to 25 days af­ter full bloom.

The stress­ful high sum­mer tem­per­a­tures can in­crease bi­en­nial bear­ing in va­ri­eties prone to it. We sel­dom see bi­en­nial bear­ing in Royal Gala. In Chile, it is a much big­ger prob­lem and of­ten oc­curs in Royal Gala as well as va­ri­eties that are more prone to it.

High sum­mer tem­per­a­tures favour bit­ter pit and lenti­cel blotch prob­lems so th­ese dis­or­ders will be a big­ger prob­lem in Chile than here. One well set­tled Scifresh block I saw still had 8% pit and blotch af­ter a 26 cal­cium spray pro­gramme. Con­trol of pit and blotch will be a real chal­lenge for Chilean Scifresh pro­duc­ers.


This is an area where Chilean grow­ers have dropped the ball. Some seven to 10 years ago, the fash­ion there was the So­laxe sys­tem. The aim of this sys­tem was to try and clear the area around the cen­tral leader to cre­ate what they called a “chim­ney” to al­low light to pass through into the in­ner zones. The crop was to be car­ried on pen­dant pro­lif­er­at­ing branches on the outer tree canopy. Th­ese pen­dant branches be­came very com­plex with most of their crop hang­ing on weak pen­dant pro­lif­er­at­ing fruit­ing lat­er­als to­wards the end of the branches. Yields were high, there was lit­tle prob­lem with sun­burn but as light lev­els re­acted th­ese fruit­ing zones were low colour and pack­outs were also low.

I did not see much ev­i­dence of the So­laxe sys­tem this time. They have moved back to­wards a con­ven­tional cen­tral leader/ spindle­bush type tree with sim­ple branches. At high den­si­ties greater than 3,300 trees per hectare, they are grow­ing a cylin­dri­cal fruit­ing canopy made up of spurs and short fruit­ing lat­er­als.

In their less in­ten­sive plant­ings, ex­cess tree vigour ap­pears to be a sig­nif­i­cant and costly prob­lem. They do not ap­pear to have mas­tered the art of vigour man­age­ment well. The high vigour, as well as rep­re­sent­ing lost pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity, markedly in­creases their prun­ing costs which ap­pear to be well above ours. Even so, I was shown some very well man­aged canopies too, par­tic­u­larly in some of the multi-leader grafted blocks.

There needs to be a lot more fo­cus on tree vigour man­age­ment, even in their in­ten­sive plant­ings. A lot of the vigour prob­lem ap­pears to be com­ing from their in­abil­ity to grasp the need for a branch re­newal pro­gramme to cy­cle branches out of the canopy once they be­gin grow­ing wa­ter shoots in­stead of fruit.


To the many in­ter­est­ing pre­sen­ters at the Po­manova sem­i­nar, June 2017 on the sit­u­a­tion of the ap­ple and cherry in­dus­tries in Chile, who sup­plied much of the back­ground in­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle.

From left:

Fig 1. About 30% of the Chilean ap­ple area con­sists of old or­chards with poor colour in need of re-devel­op­ment.

Fig 2. The “So­laxe” sys­tem. Th­ese trees are Fuji on seedling root­stock. Lower branches have been re­moved and now the tree canopy is made up of a few pen­dant pro­lif­er­at­ing branches. Note the clear­ing of buds and lat­er­als near the cen­tral leader to al­low light pen­e­tra­tion into the cen­tre of the tree. Most of the crop is car­ried on pro­lif­er­at­ing pen­dant wood to­wards the ends of th­ese branches where light lev­els are low so fruit does not colour well. Dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son, the very strong up­per branches pro­duce a for­est of an­nual wa­ter shoots which need to be sum­mer pruned out.

Fig 3. This is a pic­ture of Sciros grown in Chile. Note the poor colour, sun­burn and in par­tic­u­lar, the crack­ing. This crack­ing is typ­i­cal of the crack­ing prob­lems found in Fuji there. Va­ri­eties se­lected in cool tem­per­ate cli­mates do not adapt well to Chile’s harsh sum­mer tem­per­a­tures.

Fig 4. An ex­am­ple of a younger semi in­ten­sive or­chard on MM106 be­ing turned into an in­ten­sive or­chard by graft­ing and re-con­fig­ur­ing the canopy to a “V” sys­tem with two lead­ers each side. Fig 5. A young plant­ing of Rosy Glow be­ing de­vel­oped as a dou­ble leader. Note the ter­mi­nal bud fruit due to au­tumn flower fruit­set. This is com­mon in hot cli­mates where trees suf­fer ex­ces­sive heat stress mid grow­ing sea­son. The white trunk paint is to min­imise sun­burn in­jury to bark.

Es­ti­mates of the per­cent­age of the crop di­verted to pro­cess­ing in the or­chard by va­ri­ety are:

Clock­wise from top left:

Fig 6. A three leader con­fig­u­ra­tion. Note how the cen­tre leader is be­gin­ning to over­power the other two lead­ers. This will give prob­lems in the fu­ture.

Fig 7. A very vig­or­ous 13-year-old Royal Gala block, planted at 1.3 x 3.8m. It is crop­ping at ap­prox­i­mately 80 tonnes per

hectare. Note very high vigour in the up­per tree.

Fig 8. Close up of the up­per tree show­ing ex­cess vigour prob­lem. Cut­ting the leader back to the two-year-old up­right shoot in the tree on the right would help solve this prob­lem.

From top:

Fig 9. The same block as in Fig­ure 7 af­ter prun­ing.

Fig 10. A close up of the up­per tree af­ter prun­ing. Heavy branches re­main with all of the strong shoot growth pruned off. They will have plenty more of the same next year. A bet­ter so­lu­tion would have been to cut the strong branches off and leave a new ver­ti­cal an­nual shoot to act as a sin­gle api­cally dom­i­nant grow­ing point to take the vigour. Al­though higher, this will cause a lot less shade.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.