Extension Tree Fruit Team – Putting Knowledge to Work
The three priorities we focus on are:
- Advanced Integrated Pest and Cultural Management
- Intensive Orchard Systems and Innovative Technologies
- Support for Next Generation Young, New and Minority Growers.
The multi-disciplinary tree fruit extension team works with stakeholder advisors to implement research-based programs to ensure a production-to-consumer system that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.
Tree Fruit Extension programs are conducted across 9 regions of the state, and the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center is located in the center of the Commonwealth’s fruit belt in Adams County, PA The Extension tree fruit team focuses on three priorities identified by producers: Advanced Integrated Pest and Cultural Management, Intensive Orchard Systems and Innovative Technologies, and Support for Next Generation Young, New and Minority Growers On-going changes in the available tools for control of tree fruit insect pests and diseases and continuous development of pesticide resistance represent a challenge to the grower community and extension educators.
Also, continuous pressure presented by invasive insects such as brown marmorated stink bug and spotted wing fruit fly and diseases such as fire blight require development of new and effective management strategies. Pest monitoring, preservation of natural enemies, and integration of various cultural methods, for example, disease resistant cultivars and canopy management, lead to minimized use of conventional pesticides, improved environmental stewardship, and healthier products.
Nutrient management is another important area of our integrated pest and cultural management research and extension outreach, with optimum calcium levels in fruit being essential to crop quality and the prevention of disorders such as bitter pit.
An increased consumer demand for a safe, affordable, traceable, and high quality food supply creates the need for continually evolving industries. Global competition, shortages of available labor, and the need to minimize the environmental footprint represent key challenges for tree fruit production sustainability.
Our Tree Fruit Research & Extension team is focused on increasing labor efficiency and grower profitability through outreach on efficient orchard production systems coupled with agricultural innovations with regards to new technologies and new practices.
A high density intensive orchard such as the one you see behind me are more biologically efficient because they come into production sooner because of the smaller canopies a higher proportion of the crop is of a higher quality and they put less of their energy into wood and more of their energy into fruit Pilot orchards planted by commercial growers serve as field laboratories for studying new system designs for optimizing plant physiology and increasing compatibility with new technologies.
The plots also provide field classrooms on innovative management practices for the industry at large "Simply doing more with less" is kind of a catch phrase that I think encapsulates fruit growers today.
Certainly true in Pennsylvania.
One of the things that we have done to change and evolve over time is change the orchard systems and the planting systems that we use.
In order to make that happen we have been very appreciative of having the opportunity to work with Penn State Extension, specifically in the past 5 years, they have really come on board at least in relationship with us to come onto our farm and make possible some grants and plantings that help us to understand and learn about tree physiology in a way different than what we had been able to see in the past.
Examples of innovative technologies being researched by multi-disciplinary and multi-state teams include: Simplified pruning rules and the potential to eventually automate pruning Assisted harvest Targeted spray applications and Exclusion netting: a joint entomology, plant pathology, horticulture project This is an interdisciplinary project between horticulture, plant pathology and entomology We've erected scaffolding and put some netting on top and this is insect exclusion netting Its also hail netting. We're interested in looking at the effects in the orchard from this netting.
And comparing netted orchards to unnetted orchards.
The recently released 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture suggests there is an unsatisfied demand for education and research to support young and Latino farmers, with the average farmer age being 56 and a 21% increase in farms owned by Latinos from 2002 to 2012.
Young Next Generation Growers While the focus of many young farmer organizations is on field crops and livestock production, the Penn State Extension Young Grower Alliance has broken new ground. Along with networking and leadership development opportunities, the YGA offers its members specialized information for horticultural enterprise management, including the latest on equipment innovations, production techniques, and marketing strategies. A key need identified by the YGA is transition planning education.
The challenges were really the learning curve, growing things that in some cases no one in our family had grown on any kind of commercial scale. In other cases, things we haven't grown in certainly a generation or two and kind of, you know, figuring out how to grow those things successfully at top market quality because, you know, the markets we're in, our farmers markets are very competitive And, you know, there are a lot of great growers from all over the mid-Atlantic region here In order to be competitive at these markets we really have to have the best market quality stuff that we can churn out there. A big part of that for me personally was my involvement in the Young Grower Alliance The increase in the US Latino population and Hispanic employment in horticultural industries has created a significant stakeholder group with specialized needs. Our team has been evaluating the effectiveness of various classroom and hands-on teaching methods for individuals interested in start-up farming or in becoming specialized horticultural managers.
Penn State Extension has been offering horticultural programming in Spanish since 2006. We have found that learning increases with problem-solving exercises on practices such as protecting pollinators, hands-on presentations like pruning and workplace communication, and learning circles in association with “models of the future” vegetable and fruit plots.
Penn State Extension is constantly challenged to document the economic impact of both its applied research and outreach programs. Surveys of the tree-fruit industry have indicated increased precision management, accomplished with 80% of new orchards now planted on dwarfing rootstocks.
Also improved crop load management, using modeling and labor-saving technologies and improved management of fire blight due to monitoring and precision application timing.
IPM scouting based programs have resulted in reduced pesticide usage with a $93/acre reduction on peaches and $112/acre reduction on apples.
Increased biological mite control, which reduces the potential for chemical resistance has been successful in Pennsylvania.
Along with the challenges of growing fruit in Pennsylvania and competing in the marketplace today comes I believe one of our biggest strengths as well. Collaborating among ourselves, and also Penn State Extension, is really really valuable in terms of moving forward and allowing us to learn and improve year by year.