Updates about the Horticulture Wales project, along with industry news and opinion.

Kent Top Fruit Study Tour Review – Part One

05 November 2014

Last month, we took a group of Welsh apple, pear, and other top fruit growers on a study tour of Kent, giving them an invaluable opportunity to learn from fellow growers and industry experts from the world-famous ‘Garden of England’. Over the course of our two-day trip, we took in one of the country’s most renowned horticulture research facilities, the National Fruit Collection, a leading fruit tree nursery, and the home of a premium cider maker…

Fruit growers on Horticulture Wales study tour of Kent (500px * 375px)Day One

East Malling Research

The first of our two days was devoted to a tour of the facilities at East Malling Research, plus two hugely informative presentations covering apple diseases and the biocontrol of insect pests in perennial crops.

The day began with Ross Newham, EMR’s Head of Communications, giving a broad overview about the organisation, which is at the forefront of UK horticultural and environmental research. It currently employs 120 staff, around half of those scientists who can each work on as many as 20 separate projects at any one time. Ross revealed the centre’s work had helped lead to a ten-fold increase in dessert fruit yields from 6-7 tonnes per hectare to 60-70 tonnes. He also went on to outline many of the current issues that the team were tackling, particularly food security and the need to double food production during the next 30 years.

East Malling Research (500px * 666px)Orchard (500px * 666px)

The first of two presentation our growers enjoyed was given by Dr Jean Fitzgerald, who works in EMR’s entomology group aiming to reduce pesticide use by improving the effectiveness of biocontrol strategies and agents. Dr Fitzgerald’s session focused on biocontrol of insect pests in perennial crops. One of our growers wanted to know about controlling apple rust mite – Dr Fitzgerald kindly revealed that using summer prunings from other orchards could be a good way to release Typhlodromus pyri, a predatory mite which kills apple rust mite. She also encouraged the group to send her prunings so that she could analyse which mites were present on the leaves and provide potential solutions.

Dr Fitzgerald’s presentation was followed by a tour of EMR’s Concept Pear Orchard, a 1 hectare intensive orchard that produces more than 54 tonnes per hectare – three times the UK average. Graham Caspell explained how the orchard was established with funding from AG Thames and Sainsbury’s to explore the potential for growing Conference pears in the UK. Graham spoke about the average yields provided by the three systems used in the orchard, which originate from the Netherlands and have been set up alongside a ‘traditional’ English growing system to allow for easy comparison. Not only do EMR researchers measure yields, but also the percentages of marketable dessert fruit produced.

Orchard 2 (500px * 375px)

One of the interesting lessons our growers learned was about effective pruning, with Graham explaining how the most effective method was training the pear trees to have four heads from one central ladder rootstock.

Richard Colgan then led us on a tour of the centre’s Produce Quality Centre, a collaboration with the University of Greenwich that aims to improve the storage and quality of produce throughout the entire supply chain, particularly at the post-harvest stage. One of the main research priorities is work to try and extend the season of British fruit, especially studies into disease prevention during storage.

Our group got to see the equipment inside the PQC and how it works, including:

  • A texture analyser (photo below) which measures the firmness of fruit (said to be the most important charachteristic considered by consumers when buying fruit)
  • A colour metre that measures the background green level of fruit
  • Controlled atmosphere storage chambers which record criteria such as temperature, oxygen, and CO2 – this is used to determine optimum storage conditions for specific varieties. The chambers range from jars holding perhaps 20 fruits right the way through to large vats with capacity to hold up to half a tonne of crop.

PQC 1 (500px * 666px)PQC texture analyzer (500px * 666px)

Our second in-depth presentation was provided by the aptly-named Angela Berrie. Angela spoke about her ongoing work tackling apple disease, including research on canker control that she was undertaking for the HDC. The initial focus of Angela’s session was about powdery mildew, the second most common apple disease in the UK and particularly prevalent in the South East of England due to the dryer weather conditions compared to Wales, Herefordshire, and Somerset. She revealed that a new fungicide was being trialled as an alternative to systhane that could reduce mildew to almost zero.

Angela moved on to talk about collar rot and crown rot, diseases caused by Phytophthora species – collar rot to the scion portion of the tree; crown rot affecting the rootstock. For both of these diseases, water is essential to cause infection, therefore it is particularly susceptible in areas affected by waterlogged soil. The growers learned that she was currently working on a trial across three orchard sites which was aiming to highlight the importance of good drainage, something of particular relevance for the notoriously wet climate of Wales. The research has discovered that trees with the rootstock M116 have a particularly strong tolerance against waterlogging.

The presentation concluded with a section about storage rot and fungi such as botrytis, with Angela reminding growers that hygiene during the storage process is essential and that many orchard-related diseases can develop only during this phase.

Group (500px * 375px)

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