Profitable Stonefruit Research

To target high quality fruit, strategic canopy and cropload management practices are currently being investigated in designed field experiments at Agriculture Victoria, Tatura, in the stonefruit experimental field laboratory.

  • Apricot, Nectarine, Peach and Plum with high, medium and low crop loads.
  • Tree training systems: Tatura Trellis, Vertical leader & Vase - all have same planting density, micro-drip irrigation.
  • Research parameters: light interception, trunk size, tree performance, yield, fruit number, fruit quality - Brixº, maturity, firmness, colour, size.

The canopy & cropload experimental design

Stonefruit canopy research

Stonefruit cropload research


Current recommendations and guidelines

Researcher: Mark O'Connell, Agriculture Victoria, Tatura (

Protocols for canopy design options for stonefruit

  • Research into canopy design on peach, nectarine, plum and apricot at Tatura using Vase and various trellis systems found canopy design effects tree growth and vigour and impacts yield and fruit quality.
  • Canopy designs range from low-density free standing (Vase) trees to modern high-density 2-dimensional (hedgerow) vertical trellis and 3-dimensional V-trellis systems.
  • Canopy design will strongly influence orchard management (irrigation, nutrient, pest & disease), labour inputs, infrastructure (posts, wire, soil anchors) costs, tree light interception, vegetative growth and development, fruit quality and production potential.
  • Canopy design is an important orchard business decision that should be made before crop establishment as it is very difficult to retrofit an orchard.

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Protocols for crop load management in stonefruit

  • Flower and fruit thinning are agronomic practices aimed at changing the ratio of carbon partitioning between leaves and fruits.
  • Thinning dictates the number of fruit per tree and directly influences tree growth and development, yield and fruit quality outcomes.
  • Thinning activities contribute to the cost of orchard production via labour required; however, optimal crop loads can save $ through reduced picking, packing and transport costs.
  • Excessive crop loads result in small fruit size, delayed maturity and poor fruit quality despite yielding higher. Therefore, optimal crop load management is required to achieve high marketable yield and good quality fruit outcomes whilst maintaining sufficient vigour and return bloom to sustain long-term yield.
  • Research into crop load management on peach, nectarine, plum and apricot at Tatura has found average fruit weight and fruit sweetness (°Brix) decreases rapidly with increasing crop load. Fruit maturity (flesh firmness, colour development) is delayed under high crop load. Low fruiting levels increase tree vigour (shoot length, pruning weight, trunk diameter).

2022 Results and Observations

Yield and fruit quality results from the canopy – crop load study

Virtual Orchard Tours

360 degree photos of tree structures in the stonefruit research orchard.

Take a walk around the orchard

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Peach August Flame canopy cropload tour - February 2020

Plum Angeleno canopy cropload tour - February 2020

Time series videos

Every few weeks photos were taken of each experiment, and produced into a video to show the resulting growth of tree canopies and fruit development.

Time series videos experiments 3 to 8

Crop load and fruit position influence variability in nectarine quality

Crop load and fruit position

This study looks at the influence of crop load and fruit position on size and soluble solids concentration.

The effects of canopy architecture and crop load on non-structural carbohydrate in young stone fruit trees

Understanding the effects of canopy architecture and crop load on non-structural carbohydrate (NSC) in stonefruit trees is fundamental to boost early bearing and ensure consistent fruit size and quality. (Note: this document does not meet WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines)

Project acknowledgement

This research (SF12003 Increased stone fruit profitability by consistently meeting market expectations; SF17006 Summerfruit Orchard Phase 2) was funded by Agriculture Victoria with co-investment from Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited using the Summerfruit levy and funds from the Australian Government.

These publications may be of assistance to you but the State of Victoria and its officers do not guarantee that these publications are without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in these publications.