Whole Foods Markets accepted apples treated with carbaryl for the last time Sept. 25, marking the fifth carbamate chemical it has banned from use on products sold in its stores.
Whether Whole Foods’ actions become a trend for other supermarket chains — or if the federal government or states consider canceling the registration for carbaryl — remains to be seen. Regardless, new research shows the promise of mechanical thinning as an alternative.
“I’m not sure that its loss is imminent, but it seems to be a threat every year,” said Rod Farrow, a Waterport, New York, apple grower and vice president of the International Fruit Tree Association.
It would be a tough loss for Northeastern U.S. fruit growers — nearly all chemically thin in the early part of the year using NAA (naphthaleneacetic acid) plus carbaryl or BA (benzyladenine) plus carbaryl.
“If carbaryl were removed from the market, apple growers in the Northeast would not achieve adequate thinning with NAA or BA alone,” said Mario Miranda Sazo, a fruit extension specialist in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Lake Ontario Fruit program.
That’s why Farrow approached Miranda Sazo three years ago with a request to look at mechanical thinning as an alternative to using carbaryl.
After securing funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and New York Apple Research and Development, Miranda Sazo set about the three-year study.
First-year results were not encouraging because fruit size ended up being too small. However, Miranda Sazo reported to growers who attended the 2016 IFTA New York Study Tour in July that he and Lamont Farms personnel have since been able to employ techniques that didn’t reduce fruit size and produced fruit at rates comparable to standard chemical thinning programs.
The proper rpm
The Lamont Farm canopies form a very rectangular tree, with a compact box and shoots no more than 12 to 14 inches from the trunk. “We believe they are the right canopies for using the thinner,” Miranda Sazo said.
Trees were 7 to 9 years old and trained to a super spindle system. All were planted on Bud 9 rootstock in 2-foot tree spacings with 11 feet between rows.