Variable rates and targeted applications boost cider crop productivity


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As growers look ahead and start preparing for next season, agronomist Tom Johnson shares some simple steps that can be taken to help maximise cider crop yield and take production to the next level.

“Quantity of output is important for cider apple growers, but it’s also important to not neglect the quality of the fruit too,” said Tom. “For those planting a new orchard, or looking to improve an existing one, a good place to start is evaluating soil health.”

Tom recommends combining in-depth Solvita soil analysis with Veris U3 scanning – an all-in-one measurement of organic matter, soil type and topography. This produces more data than standard scanning, including optimum planting zones, water holding capacity, organic matter and cation exchange capacity (CEC).

“This might seem like a considerable investment when growers are aiming to keep input costs to a minimum, but, it quantifies the soil and helps to target problem areas specifically,” said Tom. “Using variable rates is always preferable to a blanket approach, not only does this improve efficiency, but it’s also more sustainable and kinder to the environment.”

Variable rate fertiliser 

Agrovista customer Lower House Farm in Herefordshire has been working with Tom for the past two years, and has recently purchased a variable rate fertiliser spreader for their cider orchards.

Tim Hoskins, Farm Manager said: “By targeting applications, we hope that in a year or two areas where trees haven’t usually established as well, such as those situated in higher parts of the orchard, we will see more consistent tree growth and cropping. 

“With wetter winters and drier summers, trees can be under an awful lot of stress. Providing the soil with everything that it requires is a big part of keeping the trees alive, and more importantly, for consistent cropping year on year.”

Importance of foliar nutrition

In addition to improving soil health, Tom believes that foliar nutrition plays a vital role in boosting the quality of a cider crop.

He said: “Foliar nutrition is easily forgotten about, yet it’s a relatively simple, cost-effective way to improve the crop. Again, taking a targeted approach is the way forward, applying the correct mix of nutrients at the correct stage of the season. 

“I advise the Filocal feed range for this reason – three varied nutrient mixes aimed at different stages of fruit development. I have customers that are seeing really positive results from taking this approach.”

Pest and disease predictions 

With unpredictable weather and a drive to make integrated pest management (IPM) the focus, disease and pest forecasting is becoming ever more important for all areas of top fruit production.

Growers Choice Interactive (GCI) uses weather data and computer modelling techniques to predict pest and disease risk, enabling more effective use of plant protection products.

For cider apple growers, this means optimising the intervals between fungicide applications to control scab, helping to be one step ahead and minimising the risk.

Tom, who has worked for Agrovista for five years said: “GCI is a really powerful tool. By improving application timings, we improve efficiency and can potentially reduce our input costs. 

“Curative treatments can prove costly and is something we should be trying to avoid, as well as over treating the crop. And it’s not only the cost implications, it’s the impact we have on our environment.

“A combination of maintaining good soil health, not neglecting foliar nutrition and targeted use of plant protection products will stand cider apple growers in good stead for maximising their output.”