Tackling the challenges of organic fruit and viticulture (OGA)

Chair:Phil Sumption (ORC)

This workshop aimed to look at some of the challenges that face the organic fruit and viticulture sector in the UK and some potential solutions.

Session summary

Changes and learning in orchards or vineyard systems are usually happening much slower than for example in field vegetables. Therefore strategic planning and longer term perspectives are even more important in these systems. Martin Soble from Whitethorn Farm explained what he would do differently if starting over again with his orchard. He listed for example “choose more resistant cultivars (if it’s susceptible to disease – it’s going to die)”, or “prune more and earlier!”. Also Will Davenport from Davenport Vineyards highlighted that long-term planning is crucial. For the wine sector however, he stated that the choice of cultivar is much more dependent on taste and market demand, rather than disease resistance. For him, weed control is the largest problem; particularly in the growing season, the area underneath the grape and vine growth needs to be kept free of high weeds to improve air flow and reduce the risk of fungal diseases. Lucius Tamm from FiBL in Switzerland reported back from the recently finished EU funded Co-Free project. The participants were eagerly awaiting his take on the results of the project, aiming to find alternatives to the use of copper. According to Lucius, there are now 4 highly promising products identified for the use in practice; and he added that in his over 20 years of research in this area, he has never seen so many promising solutions. Among these are not only new plant treatment products (which will take at least another 5 years to come on the market), but also a very useful decision support tool. This tool will for example assist in identifying periods in the growing season where it is not necessary to spray copper anymore because the fungus is in a development stage where it does not pose any relevant risks for yield or quality, significantly reducing treatments throughout the year.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Take great care in choosing suitable cultivars depending on resistance needs and especially market demand.
  • Increase biodiversity in the orchard and vineyard, support beneficial insects and predators.
  • Use low growing ground cover and green manures within the rows (e.g. white clover) to ensure optimal air flow underneath and between trees and vine stocks; and to increase soil fertility.
  • An option to manage weeds around the trunks of newly planted orchards is the use of a roller. Not cutting the grass but breaking it/bending it over, so regrowth is not initiated.
  • Some already available alternative products to copper where discussed in the group (e.g garlic extract (expensive!) or Serenade (Bacillus subtilis)), but highly varying results were reported and no conclusions could be found.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Martin Soble: Challenges of organic fruit production – Ten things I’d do differently (606kb pdf file)

Martin & Rachel Soble set up their organic farm, Carey Organic, in 2004 with top fruit, soft fruit and vegetables on 70 acres of good quality sloping land on the banks of the River Wye. Over the last ten years the business has developed and now mainly supplies the key regional wholesalers and national box schemes. The 18 acres of top fruit including apples, pears, plums and cherries,was planted from 2005 and has provided a number of challenges, successes and disappointments especially with changing weather patterns and market demands. The soft fruit plantations have proven productive but demanding of labour and logistic resources. Choosing to grow only outdoors without the protection of polytunnels adds to the challenges but reduces the pest and disease problem and significantly lowers fixed costs.

Will Davenport (Davenport Vineyards): The challenges of growing organic outdoor grapevines in the UK (599kb pdf file)

The UK is a marginal climate for grape-growing and requires a significant level of expertise to succeed. While the English wine industry is growing at a rapid pace, there is also an increasing interest in organic viticulture. Will’s talk will discuss the particular challenges he has faced at Davenport Vineyards over 15 years of organic grape growing in the UK climate, and some of the solutions that can be found. These include topics such as controlling weeds, preventing diseases and maintaining the vines in general good health.

Lucius Tamm (FiBL): CO-FREE: four crops, four years – where are we now? (4.4mb pdf file)

The project CO-FREE is working on innovative strategies for copper- free low-input and organic farming systems; funded by the European Commission, 7th Framework Programme). In CO- FREE, 11 scientific institutions plus 9 small and medium enterprises are working together over a period of 54 months. The CO-FREE project aims to develop innovative methods, tools and concepts for the replacement of copper in European organic and low input fruit, grapevine, potato, and tomato production systems. The component strategies include (i) development of alternative compounds, (ii) ‘smart’ application tools and (iii) by integrating these tools into traditional and novel copper-free crop production systems. CO-FREE also developed strategies to foster consumer acceptance of novel disease-resistant cultivars by consumers and retailers and assesses the economic and ecological impact of the developed tools.

Work is after 48 months still in progress. A range of alternative products (botanicals and biocontrol agents) was developed and explored in grapevine, apple, potato and tomato cropping systems showing promising results. Decision support systems were developed for grapevine and potato crops in order to better target fungicide sprays and to reduce copper use. Use of robust varieties is one of the key strategies for copper reduction, especially in potato production. We explored strategies to fostering acceptance for novel varieties by consumers in order to overcome one of the most important hurdles for broad adoption. First results are now available from CO-FREE’s evaluation of ‘apple production systems that explore the potential of advanced eco-orchard and agroforestry production systems, showing the potential and limits of these approaches.


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