Thursday, March 7, 2019


Last week, February 25-28, 2018, 350 fruit tree growers, researchers, educators, and industry representatives got together in Rochester, NY for the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) Annual Conference. I can't begin to recount all that went on -- after all, there were two full days of Conference education sessions, and two full days or orchard tours -- but I will summarize some take-home messages here. Speaking of messaging, search #IFTA2019 on Twitter if you want MORE! Lots MORE! Over 300 Tweets to be exact!

George Kantor, CMU, Robert Carlson Lecture
Monday, February 25 - Day one of education program with an AM themed session "Who Moved My Trees?" and a PM session "Using New Rootstocks to Improve High Value Apple Production." Leading off the AM was George Kantor of Carnegie Melon University, who during the Robert Carlson Lecture talked about orchard sensing and automation. Interesting, dynamic speaker -- one screen sums it all up -- "AI (Artificial Intelligence) is coming: It will bring changes, you can start getting ready for it now, and you can help shape it." In the PM, although all the talks by scientists who are part of the SCRI funded Root2Fruit project were useful, I found Lailiang Cheng's of Cornell University talk on "Control of Honeycrisp Bitterpit: Use of Rootstocks and other Strategies" particularly interesting.

Lailiang Cheng summary screen on Honeycrisp bitterpit management
Tuesday, February 26 - Orchard tour west of Rochester to Orleans County. Six
 orchard stops. I will highlight three. Excelsior Farms with Roger Bannister. Multi-leader Pazazz trees that in 4th-leaf produced over 1,000 bushels per acre. Honeycrisp, on same system under-performed at about 600 bushels per acre. Challenges included time spent training and pruning, i.e. getting the multiple leaders uniform. But fruit quality is very high.

Roger Bannister w/ Cornell's Mario Mirando Sazo, Exclesior Farms, multi-leader Pazazz
Lamont Fruit Farm, Inc. with Jason Woodworth and Jose Iniguez. Super-spindle Honeycrisp, Gala, presumably a few other varieties. (SweeTango, Koru, Smitten club varieties included.) Mostly on B.9 rootstocks. Planted app. 2 feet by 11 feet. Very nice -- grow the tree up in the nursery (they have their own) and a year or two in the orchard, then stand back and enjoy growing uniform fruit of targeted sizes. According to them. But they made it look easy.

Jason Woodwoth and Jose Iniguez in super-spindle Gala/B.9 planting. Very nice.
Oh, and that is Bill Broderick on the left, Sunnycrest Orchard, Sterling, MA.
Kast Farms, Inc. Cornell-Geneva rootstock trial with Gennaro Fazio. Delicious as scion. Interesting, but not too many surprises here. I kind of spaced-out because not too interested in Delicious. (Only real interest is right rootstock for Honeycrisp!) CG. 2013 might be their next rootstock release? Did I mention yet it was cold and getting colder -- Gennaro's fur hat got compliments from back home.

Fur-hatted Gennaro Fazio with Cornell-Geneva rootstock planting at Kast Farms
Tuesday evening, IFTA Social Event 2019 (no Banquet, some seem to think it is getting dated) at Artisan Works in Rochester. Artisan Works was pretty mind-blowing spectacular! And the food and company was not too bad either...👍

Wednesday, February 27 - Another day of education inside. Plus a very special event in the evening. First, in the AM "Realizing the Potential." Including the Wallace Heuser Lecture by Nick Dokoozlian of EJ Gallo Winery. You know, what I got out of his talk is that the grape industry, particularly the big wine grape guys, are ahead of us. Way ahead? Maybe not, the big tree fruit growers are adopting new technologies and catching up and trying to match the wine grape industry's obsession with fruit quality and profitability.

Nick Dokoozlian, E&J Gallo Winery, this screen sums up his talk
I also particularly liked WSU's Bernardita Sallato's talk on "Orchard Nutrient Management and Diagnostics," and the "Advances in Tree Fruit Nursery Technologies: Panel Discussion" lead by Greg Lang. No pictures on that, but there was a diversity of nursery production methods espoused by Willow Drive Nursery, North American Plants, Sierra Gold Trees, and Helios Nursery. I liked the one-year bench grafts being produced by Willow Drive.

Bernardita Sallato walked us through a step-by-step nutrition diagnosis, here with soil test optima
Oh, and at the beginning of the AM session was a special tribute and moment of silence to Wally Heuser, founding father of IFTA, who passed away last month at the age of 90. Wally was a leader in getting the industry to plant dwarf apple trees. Memorial contributions to Wally can be made to the IFTA Research Endowment Fund with the announcement of a goal of $250,000 by this time next year when IFTA convenes in Michigan. Almost immediately just shy of $15,000 was raised by the end of the day!

In the PM session "Getting the Right Fruit in the Bin" yours truly talked about "On-Farm Research: Reduce Errors, Get Results" and Cornell's Craig Kahlke (Lake Ontario Fruit Program ) spoke on "The Best Tools for the Job - Measuring Maturity in High Value Apple Varieties." Otherwise, IFTA Business Meeting wherein Lisa Jenereaux (Spurr Brothers Farm LTD, Nova Scotia) and Jeff Cleveringa (Starr Ranch, WA) were elected IFTA Board Chair and Vice-Chair respectively. (You now know where to send complaints!) Plus a "People and Machines to Harvest Apples Panel Discussion" and a nice education sessions wrap-up "Take Home Messages -- Young Professional Panel Discussion" lead by Jen Baugher of Adams County Nursery. Don't forget IFTA is going to Ontario for a Summer Tour (July 21-24, 2019) and the Annual Conference is returning to Grand Rapids, Michigan the week of February 9, 2020.

Thanks Fruit Growers News for the Tweet!

Interesting facts on Titratable Acidity for Honeycrisp, by Cornell's Craig Kalhke
Now for that very special event on Wednesday Evening, the Women's Network Dinner. Mostly because Chelcie Martin, Honey Pot Hill Orchard, Stow, MA and Elly Vaughan, Phoenix Fruit Farm, Belchertown, MA, who were home-state recipients of a scholarship sponsored by the IFTA Women's Network. Both gave five minute stand-up routines during the celebration, and I got to say, they would have made The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel proud! The third recipient, I believe, was Diane Kearns, Fruit Hill Orchard, Winchester, VA.

Chelcie Martin and Elly Vaughan at IFTA Women's Network Dinner
On to last day, Thursday, February 28 - Orchard tours to Wayne County, biggest apple producing County in New York, east of Rochester. AM stops, Fowler Farms and Wafler Farms. All I can say is WOW, especially Fowler Farms who pioneered super-spindle in New York many years ago. Words don't do justice to the panorama of gently sloping hills, almost as far as the eye can see, of young super-spindle orchard. Honeycrisp, SweeTango, Gala, and more recently Evercrisp on M.9 and B.9 rootstocks. Fowlers are vertically integrated and their excellence in apple growing is almost legendary. I particularly liked their use of black locust support system posts, which they have their own sawmill and even grow their own locust to make their posts all on-site. I can't help but think if I was going to do an organic apple orchard in the East, it would look a lot like Fowler's. At Fowler's we also listened to Cornell's Terence Robinson on Helena's proprietary HyGround soil sampling program that "gives detailed information on soil variability and can help target pinpoint areas for nutrient recommendations." Less to say about Wafler's, although their camera-on-platform to monitor orchard field workers was certainly interesting, but a little intimidating and big-brotherish -- who has time to watch all that recorded video? Only Paul Wafler! He claims it's not to punish/reprimand employees, but to help them be better and more efficient workers. Point taken. And out in the orchard, Kyle Wafler talked about logistics of the Tall-Spindle-Tip (Wafler System). The System, along with their self-designed work/harvest orchard platforms -- don't forget, with video camera!!! -- helps keep the flow moving and achieve high apple yields and quality while reducing costs.

Wafler Farms wall-to-wall super-spindle. I particularly liked the black locust posts
and low tree height. Think organic...

Cornell's Terence Robinson talks about variable rate fertilizer application benefits.
Helena's HyGround soil sampling technology. Think precision orcharding...

Kyle Wafler, Wafler Farms, talks Tall-Spindle-Tip (aka Wafler System)
Ben and Tom Clark at Wafler Farms. The orange cone is attached to
Wafler''s harvest platform and is where non-perfect fruit ends up
while being harvested.
In the afternoon, and it did not seem to be getting much warmer, but we visited VanDeWalle Farm, LLC and Cherry Lawn Farms, LLC. At VanDeWalle, the discussion centered around production of high-quality fresh-market apples -- including the new club varieties Sweet Cheeks, SweeTango, and Evercrisp -- using tall-spindle/fruiting wall systems. At Cherry Lawn an intended demo of Drape Net over high-value club varieties went awry (the net had to be removed before our visit) because of record-high winds a few days prior. Humph?

Todd and Ted (or is it Ted and Todd?) Furber, Cherrry Lawn Farms, LLC.
Note the bent-over tree tops where Drape Net was used last growing season.
There was a lot packed into four days of the IFTA Conference in western New York. There are parallels to what everyone is doing out there, from Nova Scotia, to New York, to Ontario, to Michigan, to Washington, to British Coumbia. All places IFTA has held a Conference or Tour recently (Ontario upcoming). Details are in regional, often minor differences and priorities, but standardization on the basics -- tall/super spindle/hi-density with high light utilization, fruiting wall, orchard platforms/mechanization, adopting technology, labor efficiencies, and new varieties -- are common themes to successful apple production across all regions as we move into the 2020's. And finally thanks to all the attendees, speakers, IFTA Directors, Management, Conference Planning Committee, Cornell Extension/Lake Ontario Fruit Team, and all our local hosts. A lot of bang for the buck! And I shout out to Massachusetts tree fruit growers who went and learned at the IFTA Conference -- Mo and Andre Tougas, Tougas Family Farm; Courtney Basil and Tim Smith, Apex Orchards; Chris Smith, C.N. Smith Farm; Ben and Tom Clark, Clarkdale Fruit Farms; Chelcie Martin, Honey Pot Hill Orchard; Elly Vaughan, Phoenix Fruit Farm; and Bill Broderick, Sunny Crest Orchards. 

Cheers at the Hyatt Downtown Hotel bar after a long 5 days...
Been a long time since I had a Genny!

Saturday, February 16, 2019


Last week (February 5-6, 2019) I attended iPMX5, the 5th Annual iPiPE 'Mixer' at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC. This was my third iPMX5 because for two years I have been New England (and New York) Apple Crop Pest Program Coordinator (CPPC) for iPiPE. In a nutshell, iPiPE "Progress thru Sharing" is a USDA/NIFA funded initiative who's mission states "There is a critical need to develop a national infrastructure of professionals who routinely monitor crop health and pest incidence then share this knowledge enabling dissemination of mitigation measures to limit food security impairment." More on iPiPE here and Apple CPPC (New England-New York) here. Note that anyone can join (and contribute to) iPiPE here.

As New England Apple CPPC for two years, I employed a graduate student (Liz Garofalo) who in-turn employed/engaged a total of four undergraduate students -- two in 2017 (Nicole Foley and Paul O'Connor) and two in 2018 (Cam Olanyk and Lyndsey Ware) -- to primarily scout apple orchards in Massachusetts and enter pest incidence data into iPiPE. Among many other miscellaneous work duties as assigned... 😀
Cam Olanyk pruning peaches at UMass Orchard, May 2018

I was not alone at iPMX5 as Liz, Cam, and Lyndsey accompanied me along with UMass colleague Katie Campbell-Nelson (Vegetable CPPC) and her student Avi Flynn. Also, UConn Grape CPPC Mary Concklin and her student interns Evan Lentz and Casey Lambert were there along with other iPiPE CPP's and student interns from across the country. I want to highlight here though the fact that at iPMX5 our own Cam and Lyndsey won several awards (which included cash!) from the iPiPE leadership team.

Lyndsey presents her honorable mention poster at iPMX5
First, Cam and Lyndsey got Honorable Mentions each for their Intern posters presented at iPiPE. The undergraduate student intern poster presentation session is an important event at the Mixer, and all the posters by these undergraduate students highlighting their iPiPE intern work and research experience were quite exceptional. Cam and Lyndsey's posters were titled 'A Grower's Perspective on Data Sharing and IPM.' and 'The Apple Press - Pests, Plants, & People and Using Models Effectively' respectively. Although not best in show, Liz and I were pleased with their performance and the amount of work they put into their posters, particularly when they also had current semester class and homework commitments ongoing. (Well, I understand Cam was doing quite a bit of snowboarding too!) You can see Cam's poster here, and Lyndsey's poster here, although Lyndsey's hard copy poster had an extra-special 3-D element to it that can't be reproduced w/o being there. I should note that at iPMX4 in 2018 Nicole Foley and Paul O'Connor also won a Poster award, second place I believe. You can see their poster from 2018 here.

Lyndsey and Cam share stakeholder engagement award
with fellow NJ iPiPE intern at iPMX5
Second, Cam and Lyndsey shared first and second place (along with a fellow iPiPE intern from NJ) in the iPiPE 'Stakeholder Engagement' card/publication judging. Their entry was unique compared to others, it was a small field note-taking booklet, with front and back cover links to the iPiPE website and a QR code that leads to the iPiPE Lite App. Cam and Lyndsey actually handed out the booklet to growers at the Massachusett Fruit Growers' Association Summer Meeting held at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard on July 10, 2018. Hence, stakeholder engagement. You can see the booklet cover and instructions for using iPiPE Lite here.
Lyndsey with iPiPE blog 1st place award!

Finally, Lyndsey was awarded best/first iPiPE intern blogger for her posts during the 2018 season. Lyndsey has journalism training and is quite adept at wording and looking at her work in a different way. For now, the intern blog is private. It was on Google+, which is being discontinued, so iPiPE is looking for a different host. But, you can get a flavor for Lyndsey's blog posts here and here and here.

Very proud of these students, and the work they did for us, and thanks to Liz for honchoing their activities over two field seasons. There is lots more to iPiPE, but that is another story. Here I just wanted to talk about the iPiPE Mixer, iPMX5, and the fine job our UMass student interns did. Congratulations...👍❤💥💪

Monday, January 14, 2019

MFGA meeting and Malusim app

Last Thursday, January 10, 2019 the Massachusetts Fruit Growers' Association met for their Annual Meeting at the Great Wolf Lodge in Fitchburg, MA. The meeting program included presentations by UMass Extension faculty and staff as well as Dan Donahue from Cornell's Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program.

MFGA Annual Meeting, 10-Jan 2019, Great Wolf Lodge, Fitchburg, MA
But, as a result of some feedback, I wanted to highlight one of my presentations, "Precision thinning using the Malusim app: trials and tribulations." I am going to follow with the individual "slides" and what I should have said during my presentation, but of course then I did not have time to smooth it out like I will here. Not to mention I only got 15 minutes. So here goes...

slide 1
Slide 1 - Today I want to talk to you about the Malusim app and how I used it (hence trials and tribulations) at the UMass Orchard in 2018 to practice "precision thinning."

slide 2
Slide 2 - So exactly what is precision thinning? It uses the fruit growth rate model co-developed by Duane Greene at UMass, and Alan Lasko and Terence Robinson at Cornell University to help predict if chemical thinners have been effective and thus achieve a target crop load per apple tree. AKA predicting fruit set. (See: A Method to Predict Chemical Thinner Response in Apples.) You can see the required steps here, which include: 
  • Determine desired crop load
  • Count flower clusters at bloom (7 trees per variety per orchard block)
  • Tag and mark fruitlets at about 5 to 6 mm (7 trees times 15 spurs times 5 fruits per spur equals 525 fruits)
  • Begin measuring each fruit with a caliper and record results, keep track of each fruit with each measurement, go home and enter into Excel spreadsheet 
  • Spray thinner, repeat above (several times) until desired crop load achieved (number of fruit or % fruit set), and additional thinners (if necessary) have been applied.
Are we having fun yet? Is anyone actually doing this?

slide 3
Slide 3 - If you really do want to use the predicting fruit set procedure, it is all outlined here in a 7 page document: Just keep in mind too it really needs to be done on every variety in every block! I ask again: are we having fun yet? Is anyone out there actually doing this?

slide 4
Slide 4 - Enter the Malusim app. An app developed by Poliana Francescatto and co-workers at Cornell University to help put precision thinning/predicting fruit set and the in the palm of your hands. Literally. First note that the Malusim app works in your browser where you create an account an set up your orchard blocks, as can be seen here in a browser window. As for the iOS and Android apps, we have been beta testing them but the app should be available to download this spring in the respective app stores. Note that Malusim also includes an Irrigation Model and has the ability to keep chemical thinner spray and irrigation application records.

slide 5
Slide 5 - So what did I do this year? Note that I have experience predicting fruit set and have wrote two articles on highlighting my results. But this year, I used the Malusim app to (hopefully) facilitate the process. Which included:
  • Selecting six (6) varieties in six different blocks: Pazazz, Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, and Empire
  • All trees were dwarf, tall-spindle (more-or-less) except Empire (slender-spindle)
  • Five trees were selected, five (only five!) spurs per tree selected and measured on 4 measurement dates
  • All data entered using Malusim app on Android (Google) phone using (the experimental) voice input
  • Only a petal fall thinning application was applied: NAA (or Maxcel) plus carbaryl

slide 6
Slide 6 - All fruit measurement data was entered using the Malusim app on a mobile device either using voice input or the device keyboard. I want to say it was easy, so simple even UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture undergraduate students could do it! (Thanks Cam and Lindsey!)

slide 7
Slide 7 - Here are some screen shots using the phone app. On the left, the Locations menu in the ?. Middle, fruit diameter data entry screen, including the voice input icon - press and your are prompted to speak the measurement which is automatically entered into the Fruitlet # field. And last on right, the results showing target fruit number and % fruit set, and predicted set (number and %) based on each measurement date. At bottom of this screen you can also see when the chemical thinning spray was applied, also indicated by the vertical gray line on chart (to left).

slide 8
Slide 8 - and here, for example, is the interface (browser window) you would get when logging into from your computer. When logged into your account, the app completely displays and syncs across phone, tablet, and computer.

slide 9
Slide 9 - Now, let's look at the results. First up Pazazz, a managed variety grown in WA, MN, WI, NY, and Nova Scotia. These are screen captures from the browser window. At the bottom, you can see when the thinning spray was applied, which is also depicted by the vertical gray line on the left of the chart. You can also see there the Potential fruit per tree and the Target fruit per tree (number of fruit and % set). These are determined when the block is initially set up, after counting the flower clusters and deciding how many fruit per tree is wanted. Then, four fruit measurements were made, with predicted fruit set shown by the blue bars beginning/after the second measurement date on 30-May. At the top, I counted the number of fruit per tree left at harvest, averaged across the 5 trees. So, on the last measurement date (8-Jun) predicted fruit set was 159 fruits per tree. Actual fruit per tree at harvest was 117. Humph. Definitively over-cropped were these trees, which affected quality -- look, I only wanted 50 fruit per tree on these smallish Bud.9 rootstocks. That's how it works. Now let's look how the rest of the varieties worked out?

slide 10
Slide 10 - Next up, Fuji. Target 80 fruit. Predicted (after last meausurement) 137 fruit. Actual, 125. Close, but over-cropped.

slide 11
Slide 11 - Gala. These Gala trees were a bit odd, with variable bloom and final crop. So, not putting much stock in it, but Target 65, Predicted 50, Actual 61. Not bad. I have come to the conclusion you almost need to be just below your target upon the final measurement to come up right.

slide 12
Slide 12 - Honeycrisp. We love to hate it. Target 50 fruit, predicted 90 apples, harvest 101 apples. Ugh. Way over-cropped = lousy tasting Honeycrisp. More chemical thinner should have been applied, need to see that final blue bar BELOW the pink shade?

slide 13
Slide 13 - McIntosh. 100 fruit target. 114 fruit predicted. 160 apples at harvest. What? McIntosh are different. But small Macs are good, right? Not sure I would waste my time doing this on Macs, which habitually crop every year and did I say small Macs aren't a bad thing? But do they make any money? 😟

slide 14
Slide 14 - Empire, I add here only because there is a side story (in two slides). This was not my experiment you will see. I don't have much to say here, except wait for slide 16.

slide 15
Slide 15 - So, the general tendency is for the trees to be over-cropped at harvest, and that has a tendency to be indicated by the predicting fruit set results. All is good on that front, but you have to wonder why too many fruit? Don't forget the Malusim app can also display the results of the Carbohydrate (CHO) Balance model at your orchard. Wait a minute, that is if you have a NEWA site because the app pulls the results of the CHO model real-time from NEWA. Note here the CHO balance is not particularly severe when the chemical thinners were applied. Therefore, one would expect modest chemical thinning (at best). Another/more chemical thinners should have been applied.

slide 16
Slide 16 - Now the Empire story, here Paul O'Connor, UMass PhD student works with a technician from Carnegie Mellon University at the UMass Orchard to visualize fruitlet growth using a hyperspectral(?) camera. Over the course of a week they took several visualizations of fruit growth using this special (and expensive and heavy) camera with the goal of seeing if indeed growth rate can be visualized and calculated based on these images. Indeed, preliminary results suggest that this is the case, and last I heard, they are working to see if the same growth rate learning model can be applied ot images taken with, shall I say it, a smart phone? An idea I have had for quite some time...😲

slide 17
Slide 17 - Conclusions. The Malusim app has the potential to make the job of precision thinning and predicting fruit set notably easier. One needs to be a bit of a technophobe, however, and it's not for everyone. Plus it's kind of in beta. (Cornell, please figure out the future path of Malusim.) Don't forget, however, there is a whole irrigation model built-in too. I encourage you to go to, sign-up with an account, and give it a try in 2019. I will say at the very least you will learn a lot by going out and looking at a small sub-set of your growing (ot not growing) fruitlets, which will make you "seat of the pants" chemical thinning decisions a little less so. Good luck and feel free to submit feedback to the Malusim team, whoever that is...

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

NC-140 rootstocks gone rogue?

2014 NC-140 Honeycrisp planting at UMass Cold Spring Orchard, 13-May, 2018
While recently working with colleagues on a rather comprehensive article (for Fruit Notes and Horticultural News, soon to be published) on data results from the 2014 NC-140 Honeycrisp planting at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, MA I was shaking my head. Yea, we got lots of nice large tables with lots of numbers via measurements we took in the field, and they are all nice and statistically separated, but how does the average (non-scientist?) person (apple grower?) sort through it all? And what is the take-home message?

So, I may be going rogue here -- or to put it another way "some NC-140 results for dummies" -- but here is how I/we can look at it in a way I hope may be more useful to the average grower thinking about using any of these rootstocks. (If you really want more in-depth, be sure to visit the NC-140 website.)

First, let me point out a few details of the planting: tree spacing is app. 3 feet by 16 feet, planted in 2014, data collection started in 2014 (tree size only) and then beginning in 2015 including fruit yield. You will see what rootstocks are in the planting shortly, but Honeycrisp is the variety, and there are 10 replications of the rootstocks, i.e., 10 trees of each rootstock that are randomized down the row. This NC-140 planting objective is to look at some as-of-yet unreleased Vineland (V.) rootstocks compared to some common commercial rootstocks (M.9, M.26, and B.9) as well as including most of the recently released Geneva (G.) rootstocks.

Let's start with tree size, which of course is of inherent interest in these NC-140 apple rootstock plantings. Tree size (trunk diameter) is measured at app. 12 inch height above the graft union every year at the end of the growing season. Every tree, and then averaged across the individual rootstocks. At the end of 2018, here is what it looks like:
Trunk diameter (in inches) at end of 2018 growing season,
NC-140 Honeycrisp planting at UMass Cold Spring Orchard
OK, you can see which trees are larger -- G.890, V.6, V.5, V.7 and G.30, and they need to be planted at a lower density, let's say 6 feet apart, app. 520 trees per acre. Then tree size kind of breaks at V.1, G.969, G.214, M.26, G.935, and G.41. I figure these trees need to be planted at about 4.5 feet apart, app. 800 trees per acre. And then there are the smallest trees on G.11, M.9, and G.202. These could be planted 3 feet apart at circa 1,320 trees per acre. I want to note here that G.202 should be bigger, I think there was something wrong(?) with these trees in this planting, so I would discount here whatever you see on G.202.

Now let's look at apple yield. The following chart shows fruit yield per tree in 2018 and cumulative fruit yield per tree from 2015 to 2018. Rootstocks are ordered top to bottom by decreasing apple yield (in pounds) in 2018. Now, consider some trees are larger (G.890) and therefore are going to have more apples compared to smaller trees like G.11. Note G.969 and G.30 (and arguably G.890, but it's a bigger tree!) stand out in cumulative yield. Interesting. The rest of this story later, and you might surmise where we are headed here with this already?
Fruit yield and cumulative yield (in lbs.) per tree at end of 2018 growing season,
NC-140 Honeycrisp planting at UMass Cold Spring Orchard
But before we get there, let's look at a measure of productivity regardless of tree size, where it's a fact that generally the bigger tree, the more fruit yield, and vice-versa (smaller tree = less fruit per tree). This correction factor is called yield efficiency, a measure of fruit yield per unit of trunk area. Next up we have a chart of yield efficiency and cumulative yield efficiency. Yield efficiency here is measured by lbs. of fruit produced per square inch trunk area (per tree). Once again, from top to bottom, rootstocks are ordered by decreasing 2018 yield efficiency. In general, higher yield efficiency is better. Note how the order is more-or less reversed from the absolute per-tree yield chart above. This is because, typically the more dwarfing rootstocks produce more apples per unit of trunk area. They grow fruit, not wood, that is why we like them. G.969 again looks like a standout. But G.11, M.9, G.214, G.935, G.41, and G.30 look good too. (G.30 mostly because cum. yield efficiency looks very good.)
2018 yield efficiency and 2015-18 cumulative yield efficiency (in lb. per sq. in. trunk area),
NC-140 Honeycrisp planting at UMass Cold Spring Orchard

One more thing before we get to the gold mine. It's useful to also look at the number of apples per unit of trunk area to assess productivity. Here, because we typically view a range of 4 to 8 apples per square centimeter of trunk area as 'ideal' I am going to have to give you the results in metric units (number of apples per square centimeter of trunk area). For Honeycrisp, I like to see about 5 to 6 apples per square centimeter trunk area for optimum fruit quality and size, as well as to help prevent biennial bearing. You can see belwo what rootstocks were in this crop load range in 2018. G.969 at 10 apples per square centimeter trunk area was over-cropped and apples were notably green in skin color on these trees. Most else was good, although once we start dropping much below five apples per sqare centimeter trunk area one could argue the trees are under-cropped. (Note to self here: have not fully explored biennial bearing tendence of these rootstocks, would not be hard to do, just need to do it. Maybe an update to this blog post someday?)
Number of apples per sq. cm. trunk area at end of 2018 growing season,
NC-140 Honeycrisp planting at UMass Cold Spring Orchard

OK, now just one more thing. Really what matters is how much money you can make, i.e., what is the production going to be worth given tree spacing (trees per acre) and how much each rootstock has produced through the 5th-leaf growing season? Well, that is easy to do -- simply multiply tree density (either 520, 800, or 1,320 trees per acre per above discussion) by the cumulative yield in pounds per tree, and assign a dollar value per pound. To make this super-easy, let's use $1.00 per pound value of Honeycrisp apples across the board, certainly doable, a little high for some, quite low for some others. So what do we come up with in terms of production value per acre over the five years? Humph. See chart below. I like G.41 and G.11. A lot. But consider it's going to cost more per acre to put in a G.11 orchard because of closer tree spacing. G.969 looks real good, but I did not like the lack of color on those fruit in 2018. (I assumed 100% pack-out for this analysis, why would I want to grow anything less? G.969 would not have given me good pack-out at that crop load, fruit too green.) G.935, G.214, and G.30 deserve consideration too. I want to say year-in, year-out G.30 has looked real good when I harvested it, but it root suckers profusely. With the exception of V.1, the Vineland roostocks are simply too big and not very yield efficient. (But consider they may have other attributes.) I already mentioned G.202 seems to be an anamoly in this planting. M.9 looks good, but who wants to lose trees to fire blight? Ditto for M.26, that one needs to be buried (literally). And now you have the rest of the story...
Predicted cumulative dollar value of appled produced 2015-18 in the NC-140 Honeycrisp planting
at UMass Cold Spring Orchard

Monday, December 24, 2018

Camera traps? Interesting but what about the future?

Using pheromone 'wing' traps to monitor and set the first sustained trap catch (aka biofix) is a first-line IPM strategy to manage lepidoptera pests such as Oriental fruit moth, codling moth, and obliquebanded leafroller in apple orchards. For example, see MODEL BUILDING: the obliquebanded leafroller biofix/degree-day model for controlling first-generation larvae.

For several years now, I have been experimenting (trialing?) automated pheromone traps originally made by Spensa Technologies. At first, their 'Z-traps' literally did 'Zap' and kill (render flightless, at least temporarily) flying male moths entering the trap (attracted by appropriate pheromone), and the on-board electronics would count these moths. That information would then be sent to their cloud-based 'MyTraps' platform where the user could access and visualize the trap data on a 'dashboard' after logging in to their account on the web. (Note that their overall Spensa Agronomic Platform, in addition to MyTraps, also has many other features, particularly a pest scouting and recordkeeping interface available on a mobile device.) In 2018 Spensa was aquired by DTN.

Before 2018 my experience with the Z-Traps was kind of 'meh.' It was primarily a black-box driven set of hardware/software devices, the set-up and transmission of collected data being kind of onerous. Plus, trap distance from the base station, which needed to be hard-wire connected to the internet via router, was limiting. Trapped and killed moths, however, once 'zapped' could be seen and counted after being funneled into a collection device. But I don't want to talk about the old set-up because that has been discontinued.

In 2018, Spensa/DTN introduced a new camera trap, dubbed a 'Smart Trap,' the hardware being nearly identical to before, but instead replaced the 'zapping' mechanism with a simple sticky bottom, just like a traditional pheromone wing trap. Then, a camera located just above the sticky trap bottom would take a daily picture of the bottom and trapped moths, and transmit that to the DTN web dashboard. In addition to being able to remotely visualize what was caught, the Spensatech software could actually isolate the moths, differentiate between old catches and new catches, and chart/plot the results. Overall, based on my experience it (mostly) works!

Smart Trap at UMass Cold Spring Orchard, Belchertown, MA on 27-June, 2018

Sticky bottom of Smart Trap with OBLR capture; note camera points down
at sticky bottom at bottom of white rectangular electronics box
I know it works because in the spring of 2018 I placed two Smart Traps -- one pheromone-baited for codling moth (CM), and one for obliquebanded leafroller (OBLR) -- in a central Massachusetts orchard that is an hour drive from my office in Belchertown, MA. After logging into my DTN Agronomic Platform (AP) dashboard, the traps were automatically placed on a map (after I deployed them in the field, the traps communicating by a cellular connection), and I could configure them by choosing the pest being trapped, when pheromone was added, etc. Then I waited and sure enough pictures of the sticky bottom started appearing daily on my dashboard. Over the days, old catches had red squares placed around them, and then new (daily) catches had green squared placed over the caught moths. In addition the count(s) and graph(s) were automatically updated. Pretty cool! I found over time the flight patterns of both CM and OBLR were matching more-or-less what was being observed in other Massachusetts locations.

Cumulative OBLR caught in Smart Trap; red outlines are
previously caught moths, green outlines are moths caught in past day

DTN AP dashboard chart of season-long OBLR trap catch in one Smart Trap

Season-long OBLR trap catch using conventional pheromone trap(s);
note rough match with chart of moths caught using Smart Trap above
Now you have the gist of what's going on, I would like to point out what I think are the pros and cons of these Smart Traps. I would also like to say I am a little dubious (worried?) about the acquisiton of Spensa (a relatively small tech start-up) by a much larger agronomic platform (DTN), therefore what the future of these traps and the DTN AP will be. There is a lot of promise here to make such pest monitoring eaiser and more widespread, I hope it does not get lost and that the price becomes more palatable for more users.

Smart Traps/DTN Agronomic Platform PROS and CONS


  • SmartTrap set up is simple and communication generally reliable (although one trap out of three I had went dead after awhile, was replaced by DTN)
  • SmartTraps can be installed anywhere there is a decent cellular GSM signal (AT&T, T-Mobile I believe, NOT Verizon)
  • DTN/AP/MyTraps is robust (but has a rather steep learning curve)
  • much time and money and travel can be saved by not having to manually check trap counts
  • trap counts come in daily, which unless the traps are on-site, typically is done only weekly if done manually
  • good season-long record and visualization of trap data with no additional effort (entering data, etc.)


  • cost, about $400 per trap per year (the traps are not owned but leased), mostly to cover the cost of cellular data transmission and to support the DTN cloud and dashboard (note, however, the dashboard has other general scouting uses in addition to supporting Traps)
  • DTN/AP/MyTraps web application has a rather steep learning curve (but is quite robust); probably not for everyone
  • reliability, some issues still need to be improved because as noted one out of three traps failed mid-season (but was readily replaced by DTN)
  • sustainability of Smart Traps and DTN/AP is unknown at this time after aquisition of SpensaTech
  • not having to manually check traps takes out (sometimes) the personal interaction with growers, and perhaps train future pest scouts?
  • will I sign up again in 2019? remains unclear...