- Author: Janet M. Zalom
In a pedestrian orchard mature trees are maintained at a short stature, keeping fruit closer to the ground. For hand-harvested fruits such as peaches, nectarines and plums, this means a ladderless orchard at harvest, and accompanying labor safety and cost-savings benefits. Although a tremendous benefit to the industry, bringing this strategy to feasible reality has been a painstaking and dedicated effort for UC pomologists.
After over a decade of research on the relationship between tree height, rootstock, fruit production, and management practice, Kevin Day, Farm Advisor for Tulare County, and colleagues Ted DeJong, Specialist in the Dept. of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, and Scott Johnson, Specialist at UC Kearney Agricultural Center (KARE), began planting trials in 1997. Their goal was to directly compare a pedestrian orchard (7-9 ft. tall) with an orchard of standard height (12-13 ft).
Recent reports of their long term studies are indicating that the production and quality of the fruit crop on short trees has been similar to that of conventional trees. They have quantified the labor cost savings, apart from the obvious improvement in labor safety.
These findings are really perking up media attention, including the UC ANR News Blog, Central Valley News Channel KSEE24, and radio station KMJ's Farm Report. Well-deserved recognition, however, the media clips belie the scope and detail of their work, involving assessment of various cultivars, pruning, management regimes, fruit quality parameters, orchard configurations, etc. For insight into their research, visit the website maintained by Day and DeJong, UC Fruit Report.
Both Ted DeJong and Kevin Day are instructors in the class offered through the Fruit & Nut Center: Principles of Fruit and Nut Tree Growth, Cropping and Management. Attending the class is an opportunity to experience their expertise and perspective.