Rommel Corral’s Gala planting was hit by hail five times in the second leaf, before he installed the hail net. Some trees were lost to fireblight.
Mexican orchardist Rommel Corral sees an opportunity to export early cherries to the United States, China, and the United Kingdom, and is working towards that goal at his new Tres Lagunas orchard near Cuauhtémoc in the state of Chihuahua.
He figures his cherries will ripen during the last two weeks of April and first two weeks of May, and he already has brokers lined up in Seattle, Washington, the United Kingdom, and China. A potential buyer from China will visit his orchard next year.
“There’s a lot of demand for cherries in Mexico, but my goal is to export overseas,” he said. “If I don’t get that far, the Mexican market is pretty good.”
Corral began establishing his orchard in 2003, while living for most of the year in the United States. He is a graduate of Wenatchee Valley College’s tree fruit production program, and worked for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee. Corral completed his bachelor’s degree in horticulture at Washington State University in May of this year and he has moved back to Chihuahua.
Corral is from a fruit-growing family. His father has an orchard in Cuauhtémoc, and his uncle Salvador Corral is president of the large growing and packing operation La Norteñita in the same area. The land where he established his own orchard used to be a grain and bean farm owned by his grandmother, who died in 1991. His father used to work on the farm when he was a boy.
Corral began by planting Gala apples, but faced major setbacks in the second leaf when the block was hit by hail five times, leading to fireblight outbreaks. He spent two years cutting out branches and spraying for the disease, and had to replace some trees, so that the block is now a mixture of second- and fourth-leaf trees. He has several strains of Gala. The Pacific Gala trees were hit hard by fireblight, but the Gale Gala on G.16 rootstocks survived the best. For fireblight control he uses Terramycin and the biocontrol Bacillus subtilis mixed with compost tea.
In 2004, he planted cherries and Golden Delicious apples. “I got pretty scared on the Galas, getting hail and fireblight,” he recalled. However, the following year, he planted more Gala and Golden Delicious. His aim is to hit the early market in Mexico with the Galas.
At planting, Corral added vermicompost to the soil to increase the organic matter. His ten hectares (25 acres) of apples are spaced 1.2 by 4 meters (4 by 13 feet) apart and trained to a vertical axe system. All the branches are tied down with string. The tree rows are now covered by hail nets that are supported by the top trellis wire at 2.7 meters (9 feet) high.
His six hectares (15 acres) of cherries include: Skeena, Lapins, and Sonata on Mazzard rootstocks; Tieton and Chelan on Gisela 6; Benton on Gisela 12; and Rainier on Colt. They’re planted on a 2 by 4-meter (6.5 by 13-foot) spacing.
Weeding is done by hand, as labor is cheap, costing about $12 for an eight-hour day, Corral said. As pest pressure is low and scab is not a problem, he would like to grow fruit organically, though there’s not much awareness about organic fruit in Mexico.
Dr. Terence Robinson, horticulturist with Cornell University, who led a tour of International Fruit Tree Association members to Corral’s orchard this summer, said he was concerned that the hail netting was too low and would restrict the height of the trees, which in turn would limit production.
“For you to get 80 to 90 tons per hectare, you have to have trees taller than that wire,” Robinson said. “If you choose to keep the hail net, you will lose money later because the trees will be too small for the spacing.”
Bruce Currie of British Columbia, Canada, said he thought Corral should encourage the tops of the trees to grow by eliminating the branches that are competing with the leader.
“I know you’re thinking about fruit, but you’re going to pay for it down the road because you won’t have the production. The trees will runt out, and you’ll have small fruit on the lower branches because it will be at the end of the branch. You want the tree tall and slender.”
Phil Schwallier of Michigan encouraged Corral to remove bad limbs over a period of time. “That way you don’t destroy your tree, and you fill your space fast and get some production.”
Robinson said the challenge with self-fertile varieties is that they can set too much fruit and not have enough leaf surface to produce the large fruit that is required in the U.S. market. But Corral said he would rather grow self-fertile varieties and have to remove the crop rather than struggle to get the trees to produce.