Proper pruning pays off
Sometimes the best practice is not a new application, but simply returning to time-tested horticultural practices. “We see the dividends of every-year pruning practices in our [blueberry] planting, in the markets and in our income,” reports Andy Reeves of Baldwinsville, N.Y.
• Selective every-year cane pruning boosts size and sweetness of berries.
• Doing it right is worth the extra time and labor, growers have learned.
• Plantings of blueberries are on the rise in New York.
He and brothers Brian and Mark runs Reeves Farms, a 350-acre multicrop farm. They joined other New York blueberry growers in a two-year project focused on proper pruning. The project was requested by the state Berry Growers Association and Cornell’s Small Fruit Program, and funded by New York Farm Viability Institute.
No small task
Pruning Reeves Farms’ 3 acres of organically grown blueberries takes four men about 43 hours every spring. And, they cut no corners on pruning.
“The best cost investment we can make in our blueberry crop is in training our employees on proper technique,” explains Andy. The pruning plan follows Cornell University guidelines, leaving the best two canes from each year, up to 8-year-old canes.
Project leader Marvin Pritts, chairman of Cornell’s Horticulture Department, says, “Up to 20% of older wood can be removed without impacting yield.”
Over the last two years, Pritts and his team held 60 workshops on pruning, weed control and pest management. More than 110 commercial growers learned how proper annual pruning encourages upright growth and discourages pests and disease.
Precision snips and tucks
The technique cuts carefully selected canes close to the ground to reduce disease buildup in cane stubs. That opens the bush canopy to air and sunlight, allowing faster drying of fruit and leaf surfaces.
Canes that rub on other canes are removed to reduce risk of cankers. The farm’s workers also prune canes overhanging alleyways so they can easily mow between rows. After pruning, the crew tucks the straw mulch used for weed control back in around the base of the berry bushes.
“The value of every-year pruning was being overlooked, because the cost of neglecting it isn’t immediately seen,” notes Pritts. “Yearly pruning helps manage pests, fruit load and quality. It ensures stable production from year to year and spreads costs throughout the life of the planting.”
“The regular attention given to pruning pays off in larger and sweeter berries,” says Andy. “That makes our buyers happy to purchase through our wholesalers, retailers, grocery chains and at our farm market.”
And, he’s quick to credit his workers, 92% of whom return year after year. “The same workers trim, pick and pack the berries every year. They understand the production process from start to finish and have taken ownership of it.”
“When we hosted a project field day on improving production efficiencies, everyone commented on how neat and clean our plantings were,” Andy adds.
Blueberry production on the rise
Extension berry support specialist Cathy Heidenreich says interest in producing New York berries is on the rise. “In addition to working with established growers, 562 potential growers attended a three-hour introduction to commercial berry growing held at 20 locations across the state,” she reports. “And 82 indicated they’d create new plantings by 2011.”
Interested in berry production? Contact Heidenreich at [email protected]ll.edu, and sign up for the New York Berry News newsletter.
NYFVI is funding a 2011-2013 berry project. “We are fortunate to have Cornell’s expertise and NYFVI funding to help us keep New York’s agricultural industry strong,” concludes Andy.
Dunn writes from her farm in Mannsville, N.Y.
This article published in the March, 2011 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.