WOOSTER, Ohio – Apple and peach growers don’t want big trees, but they want sizable fruits and truck-filling yields.
Researchers are helping them get there.
The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster is home to hundreds of trees that are part of the NC-140 cooperative regional rootstock project, a joint effort in 31 states and one Canadian province.
Root-what? For those outside the fruit world, a rootstock project may not seem like much, but the Wooster site is part of something big.
“There is more than one variety of tree here, but they all have the same genetic type of root below the ground,” said Stephen Myers, chair of Ohio State’s department of horticulture and crop science, during tours of the orchard at the Ohio Fruit Growers Society summer meeting.
He’s referring to the Gala and Golden Delicious cultivars planted in 2002 and 2003 in Wooster, and at the other sites across the country.
They’re grafted onto roots from other varieties, like the Russian B9 and other strains from as far away as Germany and Japan.
A little help. The fruit trees’ roots cause a variety of effects on the tree, Myers said, including deciding whether a tree makes it through a tough Ohio winter and scorching summer.
And so, with help from other agriculture experiment stations across the country, researchers are finding which roots are best to anchor small trees that produce lots of fruit in each region.
“The rootstock is what causes a tree to be a manageable size,” Myers said, noting orchard growers want trees 8-12 feet tall that come into fruit production quickly.
“Vigor and fruiting are due entirely to the rootstock,” he said.
Successful. The rootstock project is one of the most successful in the country, Myers said.
Not only is it successful – it’s necessary for the orchard industry.
New pome- and stone-fruit rootstocks can’t get the thumbs-up for commercial use until there is plenty of research on their background, according to the NC-140 Web site.
Researchers at sites like the one in Wooster test the rootstocks’ adaptations to soil and climate, how they affect tree size and how they hold trees in the ground, and their productivity and pest resistance.
“It’s not much different from humans. We want to pick the right parents and start with good genes,” Myers said.
“This kind of research can really give growers a return on their investment,” he said.
In the works. Fruit tree researchers are also testing chemicals to help apple growers beat pests and fire blight, according to pomologist Diane Miller.
“We’re looking at how to grow Gala better. Kids love ’em, and they’re a great all-around variety,” Miller said.
But it’s hard to get a good-sized Gala, she said.
Researchers are trying two chemicals, Apogee and Provide, to make the fruits less susceptible to fire blight, harden growth, and improve the fruit finish.
In the test orchards, fruit size has already swelled 10 percent with the chemicals’ use, she said.
This year, the scientists will continue to evaluate the fruits and work with application timing to get the most from the chemicals.
Peaches. Researchers in Wooster are also searching for a peach rootstock that will survive Ohio’s bitter cold winters, Myers said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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