Braving the ice and snow, the Future Orchards® team have completed two weeks on the road delivering key learnings from the successful Focus Orchards program. The orchard walks provided timely messages during the critical winter pruning time on how best to set up orchard canopies for the coming season.
These orchard walks saw the summing up of the Future Orchards’ Focus Orchard program where, over the last two years, participating orchards demonstrated some examples of recently adopted best practices relevant to their specific region.
Topics for each Focus Orchard trial included simple pruning rules and post-frost root pruning, best fertigation practices for optimum young apple tree growth, growth effects of GA applications on Kanzi® trees, establishing tree height on young Pink Lady™ trees, plus many more. Local growers identified the topics to demonstrate and reports on the trials are available to APAL members. The reports are short and easy to read so well worth taking the time to look at if you didn’t make it to a Future Orchards walk or want to see a topic another region explored.
Front Line Advisors from each region have compiled these reports and have helped with the running of the trials and setting up local Future Orchards activities including the Future Orchards walks. For each walk, a different Focus Orchard opened their gates and, through the use of AgFirst’s OrchardNet®, presented their block data to evaluate past and future performances.
Our guests for this Future Orchards round were Peter Sanders and Jason Shields. Both are Focus Orchard participants who over the years have both changed their businesses based on what they have seen and researched through listening to the experts and by regular travel.
Peter Sanders from Sanders Orchard presented a very detailed account of how they grow out and establish young trees as well as reaching the outstanding 200 tonnes/hectare cumulative yield in the first five years of planting. Peter’s participation in the orchard walks at times was very blunt but thought provoking. When faced with underperforming trees, Peter could be perceived as a bit ruthless and through hard pruning would often sacrifice short term production to enhance canopy development. But Peter always has his eye on the end game, that is, once good tree systems are in place things become a lot easier as the orchard becomes uniform.
On the northern loop Jason Shields from Plunkett Orchards has established quite an advanced system of maintaining a production database which allows comprehensive assessment of cost of production and individual block performance. Jason’s presentation ‘The Power of Numbers’ provided an example where overall ‘Packham’ pears as an individual variety performed well for the business. However, an outlier underperforming unprofitable block was revealed dragging the average down.
For this Future Orchards event, the big question presented to participants by AgFirst’s Ross Wilson and Craig Hornblow, who are delivering the Future Orchards project, was whether 100 t/ha of quality fruit is really possible? For a handful of the Focus Orchard case studies top yields are not beyond reach and that target has been regularly achieved. In each case a number of obstacles had to be overcome, but with good execution, top yields of quality fruit had been achieved.
“We’ve now proven that we can achieve world’s best practice on mature canopies in Australia, but we need to get there quicker with our young blocks,” said Craig. “Best practice for young orchards is to achieve 200 tonnes per hectare in the first five years, this can only be achieved with good tree canopy.”
One of the areas Craig talked about was around boosting yield in those first few years of a tree by aiming to get close to full canopy as quickly as possible. All regions and most Focus Orchards have identified young tree growth as an issue that needs improvement and the Focus Orchard trials focused on a range of solutions including fertilizer, fumigation and crop load.
Other key technical learnings included growing ‘Gala’ apples, solving biennial bearing and business planning. In the Future Orchards library and in previous Australian Fruitgrower articles there are a number of articles and presentations on all topics relating to this Future Orchards event.
Thanks to everyone who attended the walks, to all our special guests, to our Industry Development Officers and of course our hosts and orchard managers. We have had positive feedback from each event and we hope that the ideas discussed will help improve productivity of orchards around the country.