As the full time defender of fruit in about 100 orchards in gray squirrel country, I am well experienced with this species of vermin. Their behavior varies from site to site, year to year in many ways. You are right that they are reluctant to travel through meadow to reach fruit trees, although when they are starving, they will leave their comfort zone. Nets here are only useful when pressure is relatively low- sometimes they don’t take much time to “breach” nets and will go through them and remove every fruit from a tree in less than a day.
Populations boom and crash and after 3 years that they crashed in my region they are booming again. I prefer using baffles to nets which I make with roofing coil stapled to trunks that are trained straight and branchless for the first 4-5’- solid cylinders about 2.5’ long. However, at one site, a squirrel jumped 5’ this year from the ground and they have defeated my greased baffles at a couple other sites (in this case, trees that are also netted with strong woven netting) by removing enough grease-oil mixture to get traction then tearing through nets. 5’X5" sections of duct pipe or roofing coil constructed from the ground up with that diameter is working at these difficult sites- so far. They can climb narrower cylinders more easily.
So far, on my own property, where nursery trees are too close to orchard trees to make baffling possible, I have been able to harvest most of my fruit by continuous extermination- mostly live-trap and kill. Any day now they should turn their focus to acorns and I look forward to it. I fear they may even be worse next year because it looks like there is a good acorn crop. Probably there won’t be many next year and they will be taking fruit through fall.
I think the best solution would be to surround orchards with electric fencing constructed to stop squirrel, deer, coon and possum. Of course you might still have to net out the birds. It’s funny how none of my rich customers opt for the electric fence option, even when they use electric to help keep their horses in bounds. Usually there is so much dew in the morning here that if a squirrel hits a wire it can be a lethal deterrent.