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In planting orchards for the future, growers must think about the possibilities of field sorting, harvest assist and mechanical harvesters, and remote sensing for pest and disease management and crop load. New plantings should be designed for adaption of developing technologies.

Researchers have found that both vertical and angled fruiting walls will work with the new technology under development. Platforms are already being used in both angled and vertical systems, however, if the angle of the trees becomes too flat, it is more difficult to use the equipment. —M. Hansen

Don’t get too hung up with the system, advises Mike Robinson, manager at Double Diamond Fruit in Quincy, Washington. Growers should be more interested in making sure that they have a toolbox full of techniques to use in responding to their trees than in worrying about the system.

“I don’t think there is a magic system out there, only techniques that will give you the response,” he said. “If I plant my trees and see that they’re growing too hard or too weak, what is my response?”

For example, if the goal is to grow balanced branches with flat angles, growers must learn the tools (spreaders, string, bands, hop clips, etc.) to achieve flatter angles and how to apply them to their orchards, he said. “All I’m interested in is a toolbox. The rest of it is just noise.”

He said he spent way too much time in his younger days trying to perfect the Don Heinicke central leader system rather than closely observing his trees. “Growers don’t need experts to tell them what their trees are doing. Just take a look at the trees. They can figure it out and see what makes sense.”

Robinson has seen many high-density orchards with perfect tree structures, precise wire and trellis placement, but a close look inside the block shows self shading within the tree. Even though the limbs on the tree are not too dense, the fruiting wood is, resulting in fruit shading.

Grow the system for yourself, he suggests, and don’t worry if trees are sloppy or a little dense. “All I care about is what I’m picking and how it packs in the warehouse.”