Crop production specialist Hutchinsons has launched a major project aimed at smashing the theoretical yield barrier for apples.
The company has launched the 10-year Helios (Hutchinsons Enhanced Light Interception Orchard System) project, which will examine the thoery that the ultimate yield of apples is relative to how much light the tree can get.
The company is setting up two Gala orchards, one in Kent and one in the West Midlands, where they hope to break the theoretical yield ceiling of 60 tonnes/ha.
Yields for dessert apples in the UK are typically between 25 and 50t/ha, and 30-55t/ha for culinary apples, according to the John Nix Farm Management Pocketbook 2017.
“We think it is may be feasible to achieve consistently higher crops of quality fruit if the tree is able to capture more sunlight," said Hutchinsons agronomist Rob Saunders. "By redesigning the canopy and tree architecture, it should be possible to intercept more light, which should mean higher yields. The Helios project has been set up to see if this theory can be proven.
"We are planting trees from different rootstocks, thinking of different support systems and redesigning the way the trees grow so that less light is wasted by getting to the orchard floor. We have thought about more of a canopy in a simple horizontal plane with little depth i.e flatter canopies more open to the light."
The project aims to see how yields can be increased and an orchard can be established more cost-effectively, and growers will be invited to see how it is progressing, the company said.