Machinery and Equipment Guide

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applesMachinery and equipment required for apple production will vary by a grower’s preferred production method and operation size. The following discussion shares basic machinery and equipment needs for apple production. Because equipment tends to be most efficiently used when orchard size measures at least 10 acres, commercial orchards often are at least 10 acres. Depending on the orchard size, a producer’s expertise and previous machinery investments, the grower must determine whether to purchase and operate the equipment, engage a custom service provider or possibly rent and operate the necessary equipment.

Machinery and Equipment Needs

To establish an apple orchard, growers should first prepare the site with a moldboard plow. If necessary, then orchard operators may choose to use a subsoiler. Its purpose would be to address hardpan compaction, which can deter healthy root development. Disking and harrowing the site are other pre-planting machinery operations. Creating an even planting surface with these machinery operations will help with harvest and transportation, and it will minimize risk of water standing. Note that the site should permit these sort of equipment activities. On steep slopes, operators must take extra care in using their machinery. If slopes are too steep for machinery, then the site may not be suitable for apple production.

For apple trees to thrive, they require good drainage. Areas with poor drainage may benefit from having tile laid or berms built. If an operation chooses to do either, then it will require additional specialized equipment or need to engage a custom service provider. Also during site preparation, growers should test the soil for nutrient levels and nematodes. Using a fertilizer spreader, growers may resolve any preplant problems related to nutrient deficiencies. Depending on soil pH, lime application may also be necessary.

Equipment needs during planting vary based on operator preference. Tree planters require a tractor to operate them. With a tree planter, the equipment creates a furrow and then closes it after a tree is placed in the hole. Alternatively, an auger can create one planting hole at a time. To create lanes between apple tree rows, operations may seed grass. Note that if trees are received before field conditions are ready for planting, then operations may need some equipment to dig trenches used to heel in trees.

To support apple trees post-planting, producers may invest in systems for irrigation, and depending on the cultivar, a trellis structure may also be necessary. With respect to irrigation, drip and trickle irrigation systems work well because they apply water in low doses. The slow and steady exposure to moisture causes water to permeate deep below the soil surface, and it encourages a deep root system. Orchards that raise dwarf or semi-dwarf cultivars may require a trellis or post system. Specific support needs — and related equipment requirements — may vary by cultivar. If an operation maintains grassy lanes between rows, then a rotary mower can be used to maintain those lanes.

To manage weeds, growers may choose from mechanical or chemical control. Options related to mechanical control include plowing or disking. If using mechanical cultivation, then it should be shallow. As a guide, producers who select mechanical cultivation to control weeds should ensure that no more than the top 2 inches of soil is disturbed. Otherwise, the machinery has the potential to damage tree roots. Additionally, mechanical cultivation may trigger erosion. Spraying herbicides, such as glyphosate, may also help to control weeds in apple orchards. If operations choose to apply mulch — organic or inorganic types — as a weed barrier, then machinery and equipment would be needed for that activity.

For pest and disease control, regular spraying is important. An airblast orchard sprayer is one option. During the growing season, spraying every 10 days to 14 days may be necessary to control pests and limit damage to fruit.

Equipment can help with managing the regular pruning that apple trees require. Power pruners — those powered by an engine, hydraulics or electricity — may complement other pruning tools such as hand-held clippers, loppers and saws. Fruit thinning may be a hand-labor activity. Each cluster should have just one apple remaining post-thinning. With pruning shears, producers can remove fruit being thinned. Alternatively, chemical applications may help with thinning.

During harvest, apple orchards rely heavily on hand labor. Pickers can place harvest crates in a wagon to easily move the harvested crop. After the harvest, the appropriate storage conditions are important, especially if the orchard plans to keep apples on hand for an extended period of time. A hydrocooling system that uses forced air is one type of cooling system suitable for apple storage. Other options include traditional cold storage and controlled-atmosphere storage.

Equipment and Machinery Needs for Apple Production

Site Preparation and Planting





Moldboard plow








Fertilizer spreader


Auger or tree planter


Broadcast seeder


Pruning equipment



Airblast orchard sprayer


Rotary mower


Drip irrigation




Cold storage



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