IDFTA 1995 European Study Tour Highlights

W.H. Tietjen and W.P. Cowgill, Jr.
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

IDFTA European Study Tour members pose for a group picture outside the Apple Museum in Lana, South Tyrol, Italy

Video Highlights

The 1995 International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association (IDFTA) Summer Tour studied tree fruit production and marketing in the Netherlands, Belgium, southern Germany, Switzerland and South Tyrol, Italy. The tour also included in depth visits of several world famous apple tree nurseries in the Netherlands and Belgium. We focused on high density apple production, quality tree production, marketing, pest management strategies and the future direction of these industries as a whole. This article will be a brief overview of several topics with future articles in Horticultural News to highlight individual subjects including nursery production for quality trees, production systems, cultivars, apple scab control strategies in Germany and marketing trends.

Dr. Bruce Barritt of Washington State University put together an outstanding tour of key nurseries, research centers, markets and growers to give us a broad overview of the apple industry in selected countries of Europe. Over 28 summer tour participants took advantage of this unique with representation from Washington State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Zealand, Israel, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Michigan and Ontario. We will include the ones we left out of this list in our next article.......

Our first stop in the Netherlands was to see orchards in the northern polders (land reclaimed from the sea). Nurseryman, Wiel Williams, led the group on orchard visits which illustrated various techniques of managing slender spindle and super spindle orchards with trickle irrigation. Growers are experimenting with planting new orchards on berms of composted organic waste to lessen replant problems. All European growers are planting well feathered trees which produce a crop in the first year of orchard establishment. This growing technique will be described in greater detail in the winter issue of Horticulture News.

The Wilhelminadorp Research Station in Zeeland has extensive testing of high density orchard systems and rootstock trials. Our tour group had a very active discussion of tree fruit production with leading research pomologists at the Zeeland station. Growers in Europe are now planting 4,000 to 10,000 trees per hectare (2.2 Acres) following numerous research trials. Most plantings were leaning toward the 4,000 tree/Ha range primarily due to tree cost. There tree costs appeared significantly lower than ours along with having much higher quality in terms of the type of tree they are growing.

Most growers have all abandoned the multibed systems popular just a short while ago. Bed system production has lost favor due to problems including the lack of herbicides for effective weed control, shading of the lower canopy and maintenance of a productive small tree in the allotted space. Apples in the higher densities we just described were grown in single row systems utilizing M9 rootstocks (various clones) trained to a single wire support system at about 7 feet of height. Again more on these systems later. Jonagold and its numerous strains were the primary Cultivar through out the Netherlands, Belgium and southern Germany. Golden Delicious remains the Cultivar of choice for the Italians in Northern Italy in the Tyrol district.

Our final visit in the Netherlands was the Janns and Adric Verbuk nursery. Most of their apple stock were 2 and 3 year old trees sold as a well feathered plant with flower buds that have the potential produce a crop during first year of establishment in the growers orchards. These trees are fall dug and planted in the growers orchard immediately with no storage, with the exception of trees sold to eastern Europe and Italy.

Lunch and a tour of the Belgium Fruit Auction was a highlight of the our first day in Belgium. Virtually all the fruit grown by members of the auction move through this facility for distribution throughout Europe. The majority of orchards in Belgium as in most of Europe are small family run operations. The fruit auction allows the small grower to compete in the greater European market. Belgium and southern Holland are home to three famous tree fruit nurseries; Renee Nicolai Nursery, Jo Nicolai nursery and the Henri Fleuren nursery (Netherlands). Jozef DeCoster was our capable guide to these nurseries.

Harvest labor in the Netherlands and Belgium is provided by family members and local help (predominately housewives). It is the limiting factor in production due to the high social costs that farmers must pay in addition to wages.

The shores of Lake Constance in the Bodenzee region of southern Germany and Switzerland, are surrounded by tourist attractions, orchard and vineyards. These orchards in Germany tend to be larger and growers depend on migrant labor from the former Eastern block countries to harvest the apple crop. Again Jonagold is the predominant cultivar with growers switching to super spindle and slender spindle orchards.

The majority of German growers are members of cooperatives which provide cultural and spray recommendations and facilitate marketing of the crop. Peter Triloff an advisor for one progressive fruit cooperative was our host. Peter and Michael Wilein, also a cooperative advisor, demonstrated the weather data gathering station they utilize to predict scab and other disease infection periods. Scab is a major problem in southern Germany, since this area receives frequent rainfall events throughout the early season when scab infection potential is at its peak.

A ten year old sweet cherry orchard in full production on various experimental cherry dwarfing rootstocks demonstrated the potential for PYO cherry production in our Northeastern United States. These free standing sweet cherry trees ranged from 8-12 feet tall at maturity with a remarkable crop load. This grower utilized harvest labor from Poland and marketed his crop at a fruit stand in the local tourist area. Again more details in future articles on these cherry systems.

Italy was our final fruit growing destination. The South Tyrol, a predominately German-speaking fruit district of Northern Italy. Dr. Herman Oberhofer, retired pomologist, was our host and now serves as an Integrated Fruit Production (IFP) advisor to Agrios. Orchards in this region average 8-10 Hectares and are family run operations. Over 8,000 family orchards make up this region. Agriculture is well subsidized in all European Countries, but we found it to be especially so in Italy. The government provided up to 80% of the cost of building and equipping Italian grower cooperatives. We found them to have some of the most sophisticated packing lines and CA storage facilities in Europe. The federal government provides 60% of the cost for new facilities with the local government providing up to 20% additional. All fruit is picked into and stored in plastic bins. The growers responsibility ends with the fruit harvest and delivery to the co-op. they store, grade and market the fruit giving these Italian fruit growers some of the best returns in Europe for their apples.