OSU establishes demonstration orchard for state’s growing cider industry

apple blossom
An apple tree blooms at OSU's new demonstration cider orchard.

Oregon’s cider industry is growing rapidly and the state is emerging as a national leader in craft cider production. Currently, the Pacific Northwest is home to one-quarter of the nation’s cider-makers. Interestingly, most of the cider in today’s marketplace is made from dessert or culinary apples – such as, Fuji, Jonagold and red delicious. These apples are available in large quantities at a low price. Although good cider can be produced from these apples, heirloom and hard cider apple varieties are preferred to make truly great and complex cider. As with wine, the unique characteristics of the variety – coupled with high fruit quality – is essential for creating a superior quality product.

To help meet the needs of this rapidly growing industry, Nick Wiman, OSU’s tree orchard crops extension specialist, and his team of researchers, Heather Andrews and Aaron Heinrich, have established a 3-acre research and demonstration cider orchard at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora.

The orchard will include more than 80 apple varieties – some that are well-known in the industry and in high demand by cider-makers – plus other lesser known or experimental varieties needing to be evaluated under western Oregon conditions. The orchard will be used to evaluate varieties and production practices that can increase yield while reducing costs. This will be essential information to help the industry grow and reach more consumers. The current high cost of cider apple production translates into high-priced ciders – and limits exposure and consumption of unique, high-quality products.

Research will focus on mechanization for pruning and harvesting, variety performance evaluations, and other practices such as pruning, irrigation and pest management. In the freestanding orchard, they will explore English-style mechanical harvest techniques – shake and sweep and shake and catch, using equipment modified from the hazelnut industry. The intent is to reduce harvest costs and utilize existing, readily available equipment.

Also, the orchard will be used for Extension outreach efforts for demonstration and teaching. Once the orchard is producing, Wiman hopes to partner with OSU’s fermentation science program to better understand the relationship between the chemical compounds found in apples and taste/aroma perception.

Sources: Nik Wiman, tree orchard crops extension specialist; Aaron Heinrich, tree orchard crops research assistant

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