Fruit thinning is an important management practice in commercial apple production. The standard industry practice for crop load management in many countries is based on bloom and/or post-bloom chemical thinning (CT) followed up with hand thinning. However, the response to CT is unpredictable and there is an increasing awareness of the environmental impact of many chemicals. Hence there is a need to find alternate environmentally acceptable methods for managing crop load. Artificial bud extinction (ABE), a thinning method that imitates natural bud extinction by manually removing buds before bud break, has been suggested as a potential tool to replace chemical thinning, but there have been no studies comparing ABE and chemical thinning. Trials were established in Tasmania, Australia to determine how ABE technology compares with best practice CT programs in terms of yield, fruit quality, and cost of implementation. Results from these trials demonstrated consistent fruit set of both Gala and Fuji apple under ABE management compared with conventional management. Fruit weight was increased in all ABE treatments from 5% up to 38%. The four studies presented here have demonstrated that ABE is a feasible alternative to chemical thinning, improving reliability of crop load management with increased predictability of fruit size and yield. Trees are significantly thinned before flowering, controlling biennial bearing. In addition, bud position is optimised, fruit is well spaced and light distribution into the canopy is enhanced. In terms of costs, implementation of ABE is comparable to managing crop load with CT programs but has the advantage that crop load management costs reduce in subsequent years after the initial tree set-up. ABE is also suitable for use in organic apple orchards.
thinning; fruit quality, artificial bus extinction, yield, organic