Growing sour cherries can be a valid alternative source of revenue, but only if professional criteria are used. Ivo Piombini is an entrepreneur from Formigine (Modena) who has been growing this fruit for years. "Traditional Modena sour cherries have been part of our range for over 20 years but, in 2015, we decided to add another hectare in collaboration with the University of Modena and Reggio."
Amarena del Rio, the new variety currently being tested at Piombini
The experimental orchard was set up in 2015 on approximately one hectare, comparing micro-propagated non-grafted Amarena del Rio plants in three different layouts: 4.0m x 1.0m (2500 trees / ha), 4.0m x 1.5m (1600) and 4.0m x 2.0m (1250).
What are the results after 7 years? We have talked about it with Stefano Lugli from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, the creator of this orchard.
"In productive terms, high density works well with sour cherries, you just need to choose the right variety. We opted for a Montmorency selection called Amarena del Rio, characterized by high rusticity, compact habits and large grades. The orchard has been producing constant yields for five years: around 15-18 t/ha/year for higher densities (2,500 trees/ha), 13-15 t/ha/year for intermediate ones (1,650 trees/ha) and 10-12 t/ha/year for lower ones (1,250 trees/ha)".
Ivo Piombini in the orchard
Another positive aspect is the possibility of mechanizing the various operations. "For a couple of years, we employed mechanical topping and hedging. This year and in the future, we will employ a strategy integrated with the possibility of alternating (every other year or every three years) mechanical (non selective) with manual (selective) pruning in order to obtain a better final quality. The next step will be the mechanization of harvesting operations as well."
Azienda Piombini is equipped with a stoning system. "We started as we needed to have products for our company and our processed products, then we became a point of reference for the local territory and beyond. Ice-cream parlors and pastry shops looking for high-quality products also contact us. Our sour cherry jam is very popular and last year we also introduced lambrusco wine and sour cherry jam. Also, fried sour cherries are a unique product that combines tradition and innovation."
Stoning of Amarene del Rio
But how profitable is a high-density orchard? "With productions of around 15 t/ha and a sales price of hand-picked high-quality produce of around €4-5/kg, it is easy to make an assessment. The gross saleable production is 60 to 70,000 Euro/ha, and the net income is between 25 and 35 thousand Euro/ha. If harvesting were mechanized, we would easily reach €50 thousand net per hectare."