By Wiehann Steyn (HORTGRO Science Crop Production Programme Manager)

Sixty seven people attended the annual Apple Symposium held in Bethlehem on 10-11 August in balmy weather conditions (no snow or -8ºC mornings this time around). The symposium was organised by Helen Punt for the Highveld Fruit Growers Association with input from HORTGRO Science.

The Highveld production region experienced an extremely challenging 2015/16 season with severe drought and unheard of high temperatures in the early part of the season. Due to hot conditions, mites were a big problem.

As can be expected, growers are therefore concerned about bud quality and return bloom as well as quite interested in ways to save water and sustainably control mites. Helen was spot on in putting together the programme with the first day jam-packed with presentations by Karen Theron (phenology, pruning and alternate bearing), Michael Schmeisser (the importance of light), Matthew Addison (red spider mite and woolly apple aphid), Gerhard Mostert (ultra-low flow rate drip), Tiaan Snyman (irrigation management) and Dene Zondagh (crop protection). SAAPPA regional representative, Mike Leslie, provided feedback from the last SAAPPA meeting while Wiehann Steyn explained the HORTGRO research strategy as informed by the Orchard of the Future.

The second day was a fine fruit experience as the convoy of bakkies (and some presenters in a rental car trying not to get lost on the gravel backroads) made their way to four farms on the road between Bethlehem and Harrismith. Discussions at Clarence Valley Fruit (Franco Maree), Parva set Mea (Jean le Roux), Fyvie Farms (Kerryn Fyvie) and Clan Leslie Scarlet Farm (Mike Leslie) focused on dwarfing rootstocks with much of the discussion focussing on M9 planting density, filling the space, pruning strategy, tree training, etc.

In general discussions, the Highveld farmers expressed the need for more site-specific weather data (Helen was asked to consider raiding the group’s “spaarvarkie” to establish weather stations), dwarfing rootstock evaluation plantings, and possibly even an Orchard of the Future.

The Bolanders, on their way to Joburg to catch their plane, reflected on the considerable potential of the Highveld region for apple production, if some challenges like irrigation infrastructure can be sorted. They also spoke about how it always is a pleasure to visit the Eastern Free State with its beautiful landscape (even in winter), sandstone buildings and hospitable inhabitants. It’s definitely an event that’s high on their calendar.

Apple symp1

From left: Tiaan Snyman (Agrimotion), Prof Karen Theron (SU Horticulture and HORTGRO), Matthew Addison (HORTGRO and SU Conservation Ecology and Entomology), Dr Michael Schmeisser (SU Horticulture), Helen Punt (Maluti Fruit and Fruitways), Mike Leslie (Clan Leslie, Highveld SAAPPA representative), Gerhard Mostert (private consultant) and Prof Wiehann Steyn (HORTGRO and SU Horticulture). Photo H Punt.

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Participant attentively listening to Kerryn Fyvie at Fyvie Farms. Photo H Punt

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Apples on M9 rootstock under blue hail net at Clan Leslie Scarlet Farm.