Generally, farms where fruit trees grow in the temperate zones are called orchards; tropical trees are typically grown in plantation or village groves. Naturally occurring fruit trees have been bred and selected over the centuries to produce a diversity of cultivars. Temperate orchard crops include the apple, pear, peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, cherry, persimmon and prune. Nut crops grown in either temperate or semitropical climates include the pecan, almond, walnut, filbert, hazelnut, chestnut and pistachio. Semitropical orchard crops include the orange, grapefruit, tangerine, lime, lemon, figs, kiwis, tangelo, kumquat, calamondin (Panama orange), citron, Javanese pomelo and date.
The growing of fruit trees involves several processes. Orchardists may choose to propagate their own stock either by planting seed or asexually through one or more cutting, budding, grafting or tissue culture techniques. Orchardists plow or disk the soil for planting the tree stock, dig holes in the soil, plant the tree and add water and fertilizer.
Growing the tree requires fertilizing, weed control, irrigation and protecting the tree from spring frost. Fertilizer is applied aggressively during the early years of a tree’s growth. Components of fertilizers mixtures used include ammonium nitrate and suphate, elemental fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), cottonseed meal, blood meal, fish meal, sterilized sewage sludge and urea formaldehyde (slow release). Weeds are controlled by mulching, tilling, mowing, hoeing and applying herbicides. Insecticides and fungicides are applied with sprayers, which are tractor-drawn in the larger operations. Several pests can damage the bark or eat the fruit, including squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, mice, rats and deer. Controls include netting, live traps, electric fences and guns, as well as visual or odorous deterrents.
Spring freezes can destroy flower blooms in hours. Overhead sprinklers are used to maintain a water-ice mixture so that the temperature does not drop below freezing. Special frost-guard chemicals may be applied with the water to control ice-nucleating bacteria, which can attack damaged tree tissue. Heaters also may be used in the orchard to prevent freezing, and they may be oil-fired in open areas or electric incandescent bulbs under a plastic film supported by plastic pipe frames.
Pruning tools can transmit disease, so they are soaked in a water-chlorine bleach solution or rubbing alcohol after pruning each tree. All limbs and trimmings are removed, shredded and composted. Limbs are trained, which requires the positioning of scaffolds between limbs, building trellises, pounding vertical stakes into the soil and tying limbs to these devises.
The honey-bee is the principal pollinator of fruit trees. Partial girdling—knife cuts into the bark on each side of the trunk—of the peach and pear tree can stimulate production. To avoid excess stunting, limb breakage and irregular bearing, orchardists thin the fruit either by hand or chemically. The insecticide carbaryl (Sevin), a photo inhibitor, is used for chemical thinning.
Manual fruit picking requires climbing ladders, reaching for the fruit or nuts, placing the fruit into containers and carrying the filled container down the ladder and to a collection area. Pecans are knocked from the trees with long poles and gathered manually or by a special machine that envelopes and shakes the tree trunk and catches and automatically funnels the pecans into a container. Trucks and trailers are commonly used in the field during harvest and for transport on public roads.
Tree Crop Hazards
Orchardists use a variety of agricultural chemicals, including fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Pesticide exposures occur during application, from residues during various tasks, from pesticide drift, during mixing and loading and during harvesting. Employees may also be exposed to noise, diesel exhaust, solvents, fuels and oils. Malignant melanoma is elevated for orchardists as well, especially to the trunk, scalp and arms, presumably from sunlight (ultraviolet exposure). Handling some types of fruit, especially citrus, may cause allergies or other skin problems.
Rotary mowers are popular machines for cutting weeds. These mowers are attached to and powered by tractors. Riders on tractors can fall off and be seriously injured or killed by the mower, and debris can be thrown hundreds of metres and cause injury.
The construction of fences, trellises and vertical stakes in orchards may require the use of tractor-mounted post hole diggers or post drivers. Post hole diggers are tractor-powered augers that drill holes 15 to 30 cm in diameter. Post drivers are tractor-power impact drivers for pounding posts into the soil. Both of these machines are dangerous if not operated properly.
Dry fertilizer can cause skin burns and irritation of the mouth, nose and eyes. The spinning mechanism at the rear of a centrifugal broadcast spreader is also a source of injury. Spreaders are also cleaned with diesel fuel, which presents a fire hazard.
Fatalities among orchard workers may occur from motor vehicle crashes, tractor rollovers, farm machinery incidents and electrocutions from moving irrigation pipe or ladders that come into contact with overhead power lines. For orchard work, rollover protective structures (ROPs) are commonly removed from tractors because of their interference with tree limbs.
Manual handling of fruit and nuts in the picking and carrying operations places orchardists at
risk of sprain and strain injury. In addition, hand tools such as knives and shears are hazards for cuts in orchard work. Orchardists are also exposed to falling objects from the trees during harvesting and injury from falls from ladders.
In the use of pesticides, the pest must be identified first so that the most effective control method and timing of control can be used. Safety procedures on the label should be followed, including the use of personal protective equipment. Heat stress is a hazard when wearing protective gear, so frequent rest breaks and plenty of drinking water are needed. Attention needs to be given to allowing enough reentry time to prevent hazardous exposures from pesticide residue, and pesticide drift from applications elsewhere in the orchard needs to be avoided. Good sanitary facilities are needed, and gloves may be useful to avoid skin disorders. In addition, table 1 shows several safety precautions in operating rotary mowers, post hole diggers, post drivers and fertilizer spreading.
Table 1. Safety precautions for rotary mowers, post hole diggers and post drivers
Rotary mowers (cutters)
- Avoid cutting over tree stumps, metal, and rocks, which can become projectiles thrown
from the mower.
- Keep people out of the work area to avoid being struck by flying objects.
- Maintain the chain guards around the mower to prevent projectiles from being
- thrown from the mower.
- Do not allow riders on the tractor to avoid a fall under the mower.
- Keep PTO shields in place.
- Disengage the PTO before starting the tractor.
- Use care when turning sharp corners and pulling drawn mowers so as not to
catch the mower on the tractor wheel, which can result in the mower being
thrown towards the operator.
- Use front wheel weights when attached to a mower by the three-point hitch so
as to keep the front wheels on the round to maintain steering control.
- Use wide-set tires if possible to add to tractor stability.
- Lower the mower to the ground before leaving it unattended.
Post hole diggers (tractor mounted augers)
- Shift the transmission into park or neutral before operation.
- Set tractor brakes before digging.
- Run the digger slowly to maintain control.
- Dig the hole in small steps.
- Never wear loose hair, clothing, or drawstrings when digging.
- Keep everyone clear of the auger and power shafts when digging.
- Stop the auger and lower it to the ground when not digging.
- Do not engage the power when unlodging an auger. Remove lodged augers
manually by turning it counter clockwise and then hydraulically lift the auger with the tractor.
Post drivers (tractor mounted, impact driver)
- Shut off the tractor engine and lower the hammer before lubrication or adjustment.
- Never place hands between the top of the post and the hammer.
- Do not exceed the recommended hammer stroke per minute.
- Use a guide to hold the post during driving in case the post breaks.
- Keep hands clear of posts that are about to be driven.
- Put all shields in place before operation.
- Wear safety glasses and hearing protection during operation.
Fertilizer spreading (mechanical)
- Stay clear of the rear of fertilizer spreaders.
- Do not unplug a spreader while it is operating.
- Work in well-ventilated areas away from fire ignition sources when cleaning
the spreaders with diesel fuel.
- Keep the dust off of skin, wear long sleeved shirts, and button collar when
handling dry fertilizer. Wash several times a day.
- Work with the wind blowing away from work.
- Tractor operators should drive crosswind to the spreader to avoid dust blowing onto them.
Where ROPs interfere with orchard work, foldable or telescoping ROPs should be installed. The operator should not be belted into the seat when operating without a deployed ROPs. As soon as overhead clearance permits, the ROPs should be deployed and the seat belt fastened.
To prevent falls, use of the top step of the ladder should be prohibited, the ladder rungs should have anti-slip surfaces and workers should be trained and oriented on proper ladder use at the beginning of their employment. Non-conductive ladders or ladders with insulators designed into them should be used to avoid possible electrical shock if they contact a power line.