Fruit Crop and Ecology and Management (E2759)

Fruit Crop and Ecology and Management (E2759)

This book explores growing fruit within a complex web that connects soil, plants, animals, humans, landscapes and the atmosphere.

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Introduction: An ecological approach to growing fruit

What is fruit crop ecology?

Biological and social factors are driving the need for new farming practices. Fruit crop ecology is the study of the interactions among the many biological, environmental and management factors that make up and influence fruit production. This book explores growing fruit within a complex web that connects soil, plants, animals, humans, landscapes and the atmosphere. An ecological approach to fruit production recognizes that these factors interact in a changing environment and that it is impossible to change one aspect of a farming system without affecting others.  

Growers and consumers have benefited greatly from technological advances in fruit production that have increased yields and reduced labor costs. There have also been some unexpected environmental and social consequences, such as pesticide resistance, loss of biodiversity, potential water pollution, consumer concerns about chemical residues and issues of worker safety. Growers and scientists are looking for better ways to work within a healthy system of soils, plants and animals.

Many pieces of the ecological systems described throughout this book are familiar to horticulturists. This publication’s goal is to present a fresh look at the connections among the pieces and help farmers better understand their ecosystem. They can use ecosystem knowledge to design operations that result in high quality fruit, a healthy environment and confident consumers.

We hope this book’s readers will find it a useful tool for examining their practices and evaluating new alternatives. An ecological approach will help fruit producers:

• Produce quality fruit.

• Enhance profitability.

• Adopt new practices.

• Reach new markets.

• Interact with the environment surrounding their farm.

• Comply with evolving laws and restrictions.

• Respond to neighbors’ questions or concerns.

Understanding the system

Using light energy, plants take carbon from the air and water and nutrients from the soil and assemble them into molecules that store the sun’s energy and the earth’s minerals in the organic matter we consume as food. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants are the primary producers of organic matter and storers of the sun’s energy.

Sounds simple. But between sun, photosynthesis and shiny red apples lie grower management and the need for fundamental knowledge upon which to make decisions. A grower must operate within the natural environment — climate, weather, surrounding ecosystems — and apply management. Management decisions are made in response to the natural environment and socioeconomic conditions.

Within the context of a constantly changing environment, management decisions are heavily influenced by the developmental stage of the fruit system. Managing young nonbearing trees is different from managing a mature orchard.

This book explores fruit production at three different scales. Imagine looking down at the Earth from a satellite equipped with a powerful telescope. You can focus in on a single leaf or zoom out to a larger scale until you see the entire orchard or field surrounded by its landscape setting. Also envision you have a special filtering lens that reveals the human setting of markets, neighbors and policies that affect fruit production. These diagrams illustrate the three scales that organize the flow of information throughout this book.

In Chapter 1, we zoom in for a close look at the fruit plant and the natural and managed environments that surround it. Climate and weather, topography, surrounding ecosystems, the soil and farm biodiversity are all contributors. The mix of sunlight, temperature, water, essential elements, soil quality and biodiversity at your site affects management decisions and the resulting outcomes. For optimal results, we need to understand how the plant and soil take up carbon and minerals and transform them to perform a range of functions.

In Chapter 2, our perspective shifts to view the community of organisms around the plant. These insects, mites, microbes and nematodes are very important ecological elements in the orchard, vineyard or field. Climate and weather add to the complexity, driving organism spread and development and at the same time offering important information for monitoring and preventing pest problems. A look at landscape ecology reveals the effects of the immediate surroundings and regional landscape on the community of organisms.

We filter the information in Chapter 3 to view the people of the farm community and the world beyond as they affect production decisions. Every grower and consultant feels the pressure of integrating economics and marketing with the biology of the system while respecting the law. For fruit crop ecology, this means meeting quality standards of consumers and processors, building mutually beneficial interactions between farm and non-farm residents, and providing a safe, attractive place in which to live and work.

In Chapter 4, we set aside the imaginary telescope and consider what the three perspectives tell us about producing fruit sustainably. Management moves beyond a pest-by-pest focus to a community focus. We note the environmental impacts created by management practices and aim to limit any negative ones while producing quality fruit. You should leave this book equipped with new ideas for managing a sustainable fruit production system that is rooted within and at ease with the larger community.

Fruit Crop Ecology and Management is an effort to encompass ecological principles and horticultural practices for both tree fruits and small fruits. At times this requires the reader to examine examples from one crop and make their own connection to another. Our primary region of reference is the U.S. Great Lakes region, but much of the information can be applied well beyond that area. In general, we present fundamental knowledge rather than specific recommendations and anticipate growers will seek additional references for details about practices for integrated pest management or organic or other approaches to farming.

 

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