Hand thinning of fruit is among the most labor-intensive orchard practices and consequently contributes significantly to peach (Prunus persica) production costs. Research reported in 2008 on a string blossom thinner for vertical tree canopies demonstrated that this new mechanical method has potential to favorably impact grower profitability by reducing labor requirement and by improving fruit size and quality. A string thinner prototype for open-center tree canopies was tested in six orchards in 2008. Peach blossom removal in upper canopy regions ranged from 23% to 69% with the new string thinner oriented in a horizontal or inclined position to thin the tops of vase-shaped trees. Optimal thinning with the horizontal string thinner was with a 2.0 km h-1 tractor speed, reducing peach crop load by an average of 47%, reducing follow-up hand thinning time 32%, and increasing fruit in higher market size categories 22% to 31%. Net economic impact (realized economic savings) of mechanical thinning at 2.0 km h-1 versus hand thinning alone ranged from $799 to $911 per hectare. Total yield was sometimes reduced by string thinner treatments; however, high-market-value yields were comparable across treatments. Two combination treatments-mechanical thinning followed by hand blossom thinning and thinning with a horizontal followed by a vertical string thinner-suggested additional strategies for achieving the most desirable thinning results.
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