High-density apple, pear, cherry, peach and plum orchards


1984 to 2020


Tree-fruit producers in New York state must increase their efficiency of production to remain competitive. Over the last 20 years, our research and extension project has helped growers increase yields, increase fruit quality and stay competitive in a global market.


Tree-fruit producers in New York state have the advantage of excellent fruit soils, a favorable climate, and locations near large population centers with high per capita income. However, yields per acre are lower than their major competitors while production costs are higher.
To remain competitive, tree fruit producers must increase their efficiency of production, either by increasing yield and/or fruit quality or by reducing the cost of production. Growers can accomplish all three objectives by planting new, high-density fruit plantings and by replanting older, less-productive orchards with more modern orchard systems.
Most growers have slowly been doing that for the last 20 years to stay competitive in a global market. If higher yields and quicker production could be achieved, the New York tree fruit industry could be revitalized.


Since the mid-1970s, researchers and extension personnel at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva have been studying high-density plantings of, first, apple and, later, peach, pear, cherry and plum. Since 1984, Terence Robinson has led these efforts, which have slowly led the industry to higher and higher tree densities.
In addition to increasing tree density, other factors related to early production have been studied including soil preparation, tree quality, irrigation, soil fertilization, fertigation, and tree training and pruning. Combining positive results from studies of these factors has resulted in much higher production from young orchards and better fruit quality and production from mature orchards.
It is now common for fruit growers to plant trees at ultra high densities and harvest a moderate-size crop in the second year and a full crop by year four. This has dramatically improved orchard efficiency and has allowed some growers to maintain constant production but farm many fewer acres.


The planting of higher and higher tree densities in new orchards has allowed New York tree fruit growers to remain competitive in the world market. Production has increased substantially, and fruit quality has improved. In addition, labor efficiency is much better with the ultra-high-density orchards. We estimate that profitability of new high-density orchards is 100-300 percent greater than the traditional low-density orchards.
Without the movement to high-density orchards, New York tree fruit growers would be much less competitive in the world market and the size of the industry would have shrunk significantly. Although there are fewer acres planted to apples in New York than there were 30 years ago, the total production has remained constant.

Researchers involved: 

  • Robinson, Terence L
  • Hoying, Stephen A
  • Fazio, Gennaro

Organizations involved: 

  • USDA Agricultural Research Service, Plant Genetics Resources Unit

International focus: 

  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • New York