November 11, 2014
Progress update from Fruit iFarm at EMR
Planting has continued this year at Agrii’s 1ha demonstration site for fruit production, at East Malling Research in Kent. The apples and pears planted last year have been joined by cherries, plums and the first trees of what will be a collection of apricots –one of the fruit industry’s newest crops – plus strawberries on raised beds. It won’t stop there, however, as Agrii technical support manager for fruit, Colin Bird, who has overall responsibility for the project, has plans to plant a further 300 apple trees this autumn, plus blackcurrants, raspberries and gooseberries.
Agrii took on the site two years ago to give its fruit agronomists the chance to test ideas about crop management and, for instance, to look at the effectiveness of current and novel pesticides, generating new information that they will then be able to share. And with a range of fruit clones and varieties all on the same site, growers will get the chance to assess for themselves the earliness, precocity and growth habit of each, which they can’t easily do anywhere else.
In the apples and pears already planted Mr Bird is tracking the effect on establishment and first yields of apples and pears of using compost or slow-release fertiliser, which were used either separately or together in the planting hole when the first trees were planted in 2013. On this year’s plantings he is comparing two different mycorrhiza products, to see if there is any difference between them. He has also run a trial on residual herbicides. “The residual herbicides that currently can be used are either not persistent enough or broad enough in the range of weeds they target,” he explains. “I have looked this year at one product which is known to be broad spectrum in its activity but has no approval on top fruit, and at a couple of others which have a 12-month harvest interval so could be used in new orchards.”
A comparison of fungicides approved for control of either apple scab or powdery mildew, or which can control both diseases, showed that all were effective. “There has been concern among some growers that some of these products don’t work as well as they used to,” says Mr Bird. “But from this one trial in one year, it looks like they are still effective even in what had been a high pressure year for mildew.”
On pears, Mr Bird wanted to see if fruit quality could be at risk by repeated sprays of the insecticide Sirius, a physically acting product based on silicon. “I was targeting pear sucker and applied it at four times the recommended rate to see what would happen – and it had no adverse effect,” he says.
Another issue Mr Bird is investigating is spray coverage by low-drift nozzles. “There is an issue about good coverage at water volumes acceptable to fruit growers,” he says.
The demonstration site will be made available to agrochemical manufacturers should they need to test products under development on different fruit types or varieties. “It may help them collect the data they need for registration of new products – which will help the whole fruit industry,” he adds. “Anyone who has an idea for trials work is invited to get in touch – it’s what the site is here for.”