By SEAN ELLIS
PARMA, Idaho -- Research trials that are helping prepare the way for the mechanization of fruit orchards are expected to be one of the highlights of the University of Idaho's Annual Fruit Field Day Sept. 14.
The field day will be held at UI's Parma Research Center from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and will include the latest results of the center's super-high-density apple orchard trials.
The ongoing challenge fruit growers have with finding an adequate labor supply has driven interest in mechanization and that topic is expected to be of particular interest this year, UI researcher Essie Fallahi, the university's project research leader on fruit crops, said.
"The labor issue is becoming so serious that we have to move in that direction from all aspects, including planting, pruning, training and harvesting," he said. "We need mechanization at all levels."
Fallahi will share some of the results of his "wall project," a super-high-density apple orchard designed with future mechanization of the industry in mind.
The project is training trees to grow in very thin but solid walls, both straight and tilted in a V-shape. The trial is producing fruit in exactly the same location on each tree. Because apples are trained to grow at 18-inch intervals, they don't compete with each other for light and nutrients.
The trial is experimenting with different spacing of trees, from 1.5 feet to 6 feet, and because the tops of the trees are avoiding each other, they are not competing for light.
The end goal, Fallahi said, is to have orchards that not only produce a very large amount of fruit, but also high-quality apples.
"In terms of modern fruit production, more per acre is not enough," he said. "We want to have more production of high-quality fruit per acre. To do that, we want to make sure the (apples) are not competing with each other in terms of nutrients and carbohydrates and other resources, including sunlight."
Chad Henggeler, orchard manager of Henggeler Orchards and Packing, said he's excited about the project and is particularly interested in the mechanization aspects of it.
"(Fallahi is) taking a very systematic approach," Henggeler said. "(Mechanization) is definitely where the industry is going and we need the right system that gives us the maximum production."
The field day includes a look at the latest industry research, new fruit cultivars and production techniques and attracts more than 800 people each year from throughout the Pacific Northwest and other states.
Dan Symms of Symms Fruit Ranch, one of the state's largest, said the topics covered during the field day, including the latest research by Fallahi, are of huge interest to the industry.
"It's a very worthwhile event and someone from our organization goes every year," he says. "Dr. Fallahi is kind of renowned worldwide and has been a huge benefit to our industry here in Idaho...."
For more information about the field day, call the Parma center at (208) 722-6701, Ext. 228, or Fallahi at Ext. 225.