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Training System

There is substantial debate about the best planting and training system for producing cider apples. Modern, high-density orchard systems, e.g., tall spindle, are being increasingly adopted for fresh market dessert cultivars because of their precocity, crop yield, and fruit quality potential. However, tall spindle systems are substantially more expensive to establish than lower-density, freestanding central leader systems, and their high installation and early management costs are typically recouped through early, high-yield harvests of high-value fruit. For cider-specific cultivars, lower potential fruit price, biennial bearing tendency, and reduced need for fruit-sun exposure may make those advantages less significant. There is also substantial discussion around best harvest methods, including mechanical and/or ground harvesting of cider fruit that may lend themselves to certain training systems. Research needs to be conducted on the best training systems for cider-specific cultivars, especially the European bittersweet and bittersharp cultivars, to assess potential juice quality effects, and the economics of New England cider production before widespread recommendations may be made. Growers are urged to carefully consider potential costs, returns, and markets when choosing a tree planting and training system for cider apple production.