Topworked block of hard cider varieties under trial at the Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center. Photo: Tara Baugher, Penn State
The survey was sent out to growers through articles in Fruit Times and PA Fruit News. Twenty growers responded to the survey. Of the twenty respondents:
- Five were cidermakers that currently grow their own fruit.
- One was a cidermaker interested in growing his own fruit.
- Five were fruit growers selling their cider apples to cidermakers.
- Four were fruit growers interested in producing cider apples to sell.
- Five respondents were new to fruit growing, but are interested in growing cider apples.
Forty percent had been growing cider apples for three years or longer and 20% had been growing them for five years or longer. Sixty-five percent wanted to diversify their operation, and 55% were interested in supporting local foods.
Growers reported their three greatest challenges to producing cider fruit are disease management, variety selection, and crop load management. When asked to identify topics for future research and extension programming, disease management, variety trials, weed management, and plant nutrition were recommended.
Disease management was selected as the greatest challenge to production and was also selected as the most in need of research and extension programming. Cider fruit growers have been reporting many traditional cider varieties appear to be susceptible to fire blight. These reports are reflected in the growers surveyed, as 84% of respondents said fire blight is a problem in their orchards. Growers and researchers have reported many traditional cider varieties bloom very late in the season. Late bloom is particularly problematic for managing fire blight, as many of the trees will bloom when temperatures may be above 65°F and relative humidity will be above 60%, conditions very favorable to fire blight infection.
Other diseases were also of concern. Sixty-three percent of respondents were concerned with fruit rots, 31% expressed concerns with apple scab, and 26% were concerned with powdery mildew. To manage diseases, growers are interested in growing disease resistant apple cultivars, regularly monitoring their orchards for diseases, and using disease forecasting models.
A research trial at Michigan State University is evaluating fire blight and apple scab susceptibility in thirty cider apple cultivars. This project will continue until 2018, but preliminary data are currently available.
Variety selection was another area where cider fruit growers would like more research and extension programming. Seventy percent of respondents reported they are already growing traditional hard cider varieties. Most growers plan to plant more traditional cider apples within the next five years and would like more information on how these cultivars perform in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The Penn State Fruit Research and Extension Center currently has a replicated research block of ten traditional cider varieties. Researchers are evaluating juice chemistry to determine cider quality of apples grown under Pennsylvania conditions. Data has been gathered on pH, titratable acidity, soluble solids, and the Gallic acid equivalent tannin content.
Suggestions for research and extension outreach on weed management and plant nutrition included studies on tree row mulches; early season, non-competitive ground covers; and building soil organic matter. The respondents placed a high value on soil and leaf analysis, and 75% were interested in learning to better scout their orchard for disease, insect, and weed pests.
Much like fruit destined for the fresh market, crop load management was another concern for cider apple growers. Many traditional cider varieties tend to bear biennially, so crop load management is critical to promote good return bloom. Penn State currently has many resources on precision crop load management, and work is being performed to determine the effects of different levels of crop thinning on final hard cider fruit quality.
Thanks to all who participated in this survey!