A recent survey of Washington State apple growers suggests that orchard platforms are not widely used there.

Just over 10 percent of respondents to a survey conducted last year by Washington State University said they were using platforms for orchard work. Unsuitable orchard structure was one of the main reasons given for not using them. The high purchase cost and the inability to use platforms on steep hills were also factors, reports Dr. Karina ­Gallardo, WSU agricultural economist.

This suggests that platforms won’t be extensively adopted until high-density planting systems with trees forming a two-­dimensional plane are used on a larger number of acres, she said.

The 35 people who had platforms said they used them primarily for pruning, tree training, and thinning. Some growers also use them for constructing trellises, hanging pheromone dispensers, and a few for blossom thinning. Only two reported using platforms for harvest.

Most growers using platforms said their objective was to increase worker productivity. A high proportion said they also aimed to improve worker safety and improve the quality of the work.

The most common reasons cited for not using platforms were that the orchard architecture was not suitable, the cost was too high, and they were concerned about stability on slopes. Ten percent said limited availability at equipment dealerships was a factor.

Typical platform users

The survey showed that growers who had high-density planar orchards were the most likely to use platforms, and the growers most likely to have planar orchards are younger than average and tend to use the Internet as a source for management decisions.

Larger growers were also more likely to have planar plantings and platforms, perhaps because they had greater assets for replanting and could spread the cost of a platform over a greater number of acres.

Growers with planar orchards tend to grow newer apple varieties, rather than Red or Golden Delicious, and have some organic apples. Gallardo said growers willing to take the risks of growing new varieties might also be more willing to accept the risks of new technologies.

Growers in the Yakima and Columbia Basin regions were more likely to have planar orchard structures than orchards in the Wenatchee region.