It was sure to happen. Delaware Valley College's Ag and Environmental Sciences Dean Russell Redding, being rooted in Pennsylvania's “apple capital" – Adams County, knows the importance of training trees – and students – with the latest technologies.
That explains why a new-generation tree fruit orchard was planted this spring on the Doylestown, Pa., campus. Some 650 apple and peach trees are now growing in three different planting systems on three different rootstocks.
“Delaware Valley College has a 116-year history of hands-on practice and learning as an integral part of education," says Redding. A strong foundation in the business side of the industry is critical to keeping the family farm alive.
The orchard is designed to give students the opportunity to study cost differences, volume of fruit produced by each system and the differences in the fruit produced by each planting system.
“This is what makes agriculture such an exciting industry – it requires a deep understanding of science, marketing and business," he adds. “Students will see all of these aspects and more when they step into the classroom and the orchard."
“We're redoubling our efforts so students get the very latest in agriculture science," emphasizes Steve De Broux, co-chair of the college's Natural Resources and Biosystems Management department. “We're in the planning stages for big, positive changes in plant production."
What's in the blocks
DelVal alumnus Dough Christie, the college's farmland manager, collaborated with Win Cowgill, also a DelVal alumnus and a Rutgers University fruit specialist, to plant four types of peach and three apple varieties. Each variety was grafted onto three types of rootstock – B9 dwarf stock, M9 medium-sized and M7 which produces a larger freestanding tree.
The trees were also staged in three systems: The tall-spindle is a high-density, high-yield system that's quickest to fruit, but most expensive to plant due to the extra trees and supportive trellising.
The more common central-leader system has larger trees, but the least number per acre. Since it doesn't require trellising, it's the lowest cost system to plant and has the lowest yield per acre.
The vertical-axis planting takes longer than the tall-spindle to bear fruit, and is the second most dense stand of the three. Grown similar to the tall-spindle, these trees are allowed some permanent lower branches to become wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. While per-acre yields aren't as high as with the tall-spindle, planting costs are less.
The orchard is “plumbed" for trickle irrigation, which conserves water by just putting the water on the roots. When the trees produce fruit, they'll be used for pick-your-own through the DelVal Farm Market.
“It will be a chance for the students to work in a high-density orchard and see how different trees and production systems work," says Christie. “If a student isn't going to start his own orchard, he'll probably work for a commercial or family orchard. Most commercial orchards are moving toward high-density systems."