This is why Rhine fruit growers protect their orchards

Surely everyone has seen them before: wooden, steel or concrete scaffoldings, with nets and films, stretching over fruit trees, berry bushes and strawberry fields. Many walkers or hikers may also have been disturbed by constructions in the landscape. But one thing is certain: “For us fruit growers, such crop protection systems will secure our livelihood,” says Ferdinand Völzgen, chairman of the Bonn/Rhine-Sieg district fruit growers association. “Without roofs and hail protection nets, we cannot produce the high-quality fruit that trade and consumers demand of us. »

Why are fruit crop protection systems an indispensable part of modern fruit growing? One answer: abnormal weather conditions – such as late frosts in spring or heavy rains in summer – put a strain on fruit crops throughout the year. In addition, globalization and climate change mean that more and more insect pests threaten German fruit crops. A well-known example is the cherry vinegar fly, which originated in Asia and has spread rapidly across Europe in recent years. But so far, it has no equivalent in our latitudes. It mainly attacks softer types of fruit shortly before harvest, for example cherries and berries.

Strawberries growing in film tunnels are well protected from rain – and thus also from rot. Photo: Herbert Knuppen

What protection systems do Rhine fruit growers use to protect the quality of their harvest? Some examples :

Hail nets: Many fruit growers pull nets over their apple trees after flowering. They prevent hailstones from damaging trees and fruit. “Hailstones can dig deep into apples, which can also lead to fruit rot if the weather remains wet,” says Gerd Moog, a fruit grower from Wachtberg-Fritzdorf. “So a single hailstorm can cause the total loss of my apple crop. That’s why I protect my fruit with hail protection nets.

Film tunnels and rain caps: In a rainy summer – as it is this year – the persistent humidity means that a large part of the outdoor strawberries already rot in the field. The so-called film tunnels and rain caps provide a remedy: strawberries growing under the films are well protected when it rains. “Before putting a film on the arches of the tunnel in the spring, we lay a thick layer of straw between the rows of strawberries and the arches. When it rains, water can slowly infiltrate it, even if the ground is dry,” explains Friederike Schneider. from Schneiders Obsthof to Wachtberg. “We also make small ditches at the end of the tunnels with the plow. They allow water to flow in a controlled way, even during heavy rains.”

Cultivation under cover has become essential in modern fruit growing. For example, many fruit growers cover their black currant bushes with film to protect the fruit from rain – and thus from shattering. Photo: Herbert Knuppen

Film roofs: The films that arboriculturists spread over cherry or blackcurrant trees, for example, preserve the quality of the fruit. Because without a protective roof, they would burst and rot in the rain. “Thanks to the roofs, my fruit stays firm and durable. This allows me to deliver them to retailers and end consumers,” says Manfred Felten, who runs a fruit farm in Meckenheim. “Thus, protected cultivation systems also contribute to securing regional fruit production. Every kilogram of cherries we grow here, food retailers don’t have to import from Southern Europe or Turkey.

Nets: To protect the cherries from the cherry vinegar fly, the fruit growers in the Rhineland have only one effective means: they completely envelop their cherry orchards in a tightly meshed net. “The nets prevent the entry of these insects, which could otherwise cause immense damage to the fruits ready for harvesting,” explains Felten. Like his colleagues, he only stretches the net over the trees after they bloom so that pollinating insects like bumblebees and bees can pollinate the flowers.

Incidentally, in protected crops, arborists can significantly reduce the use of pesticides. Thanks to the tunnels, fruit growers can, for example, introduce beneficial insects into their strawberry crops that devour harmful insects. And in the case of his cherry trees, which are protected by a film roof and netting, Felten notes, “Netting is the smarter and more effective solution, better than spraying, to prevent pest infestations. Even if it involves costs and a lot of work time – for me there is no way around it.”

In protected cultivation – like here in a film tunnel – fruit growers can reduce the use of pesticides and introduce beneficial insects. The strip of colorful flowers next to the tunnels also provides habitat for many insects. Photo: Herbert Knuppen

The Bonn/Rhein-Sieg fruit growing specialist association is a regional sub-organization of the Provinzialverband Rheinischer Obst- und Gemüsebauer eV, the professional interest group for fruit and vegetable growers in the North Rhine-Westphalia region. The trade association counts around 140 fruit growers from the southern Rhineland among its members. They grow not only apples and pears, but also other popular types of fruit – for example, strawberries, raspberries, currants and blackberries, sweet cherries and plums. Rhine fruit growers market their fruit from their own cultivation either through their own farm shop or through trade – true to the motto: From the region, for the region.

For more information:
Fachgruppe Obstbau Bonn/Rhein-Sieg
Email: [email protected]

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