Nets installed to protect precious fruits

Par Mario Pitre
Nets installed to protect precious fruits
White netting has been covering the Honeycrisp and SweeTango apples at Stevenson Orchard in Franklin to protect the apples from possible hail damage. (Photo : Sarah Rennie)

Anyone driving through apple country in Franklin will likely have noticed the nets adorning numerous rows of apple trees at Stevenson Orchard this year. Following a devastating hail storm that wiped out the majority of their apples last summer, the family-run orchard decided to install hail nets on certain varieties to guarantee this year’s harvest.
While the chances are unlikely that we will see another storm like the one we saw last August, which saw quarter-sized hail pummel sections of Rockburn and Franklin for over 20 minutes, the possibility of a hail storm remains a constant threat with each severe weather warning issued for the area. “With the summer of 2017 experience fresh in our minds this seemed the perfect time to make the investment,” says Tamara Stevenson of the hail nets.
The white nets, which are installed presently on the SweeTango and Honeycrisp varieties, can also help to protect the fruit from wind, sun, insect and bird damage. “We have invested a lot in these varieties and trying to insure, and provide a good crop is very important to us,” notes Stevenson, who admits there are many benefits to using the netting. “We consider this a long term investment, and these nets developed in Australia, are truly the best alternative,” she says. Called Drape Net, the company that designed and developed these non-structured nets and the attachment to install them using a tractor is distributed in North America through Chazy Orchards in New York State. The nets are designed to be reusable, notes Stevenson, who says the man who developed the nets, a third-generation apple and cherry grower named Micheal Cunial, is still using original nets now at the thirteen year mark.
This year’s season
With the nets installed, and a summer without hail, the season is off to a great start, admits Stevenson, who suggests the apples are benefitting from being under the netting. “They are maturing nicely in both size and colour. The nets provide a physical barrier. When hail hits it bounces off. Birds are likely to move to other trees and other pests are less likely to be on the tree because of the barrier.”
Some of the nets have already been removed and the rest will be coming off over the coming weeks as the apples ripen and are ready to be picked. The last heat wave certainly helped in that regard, says Stevenson, while hinting that some cooler evenings to continue the ripening of other varieties would be a good thing. “The season looks good, although at this point there is no question that a break in the heat and a bit of rain would be welcomed.”

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