We have seen some spectacular chemical thinning results this year, undoubtedly helped by the dull cloudy weather and warm nights.
With lower value commodity varieties such as the Royal Gala group where fruit drop has been good, these varieties will probably get through to harvest without much need for hand thinning. These are now low margin varieties so it is doubtful they could stand the cost of hand thinning which in larger old trees is probably close to $1 per carton.
Focus your hand thinning efforts on higher value varieties where there are good rewards for crop grooming. Thinning the ends of branches and the tops of leaders where large clumps of fruit often set is expensive and labour intensive. Most of this fruit is concentrated in the last 15 to 20cm of the leader or branch so a quick fix is to shorten the leader or branch by about 15cm. In the case of leaders in younger trees this shortening will stiffen the leader, as well as drive some very useable weaker side laterals.
Many newer blocks in Hawke’s Bay have been planted too close for the strength of the soil so it does not take long for fruiting laterals to become excessively strong for their allotted space. Excessive strong annual shoots will respond to heading back during December. We have also noticed that where annual lateral vigour is excessive there is a tendency for significant areas of bare wood back towards the leader. Shortening stronger laterals in December will avoid much of this problem and lead to a more efficient fruiting canopy.