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APAL Future Orchards International Tour in New Zealand – a valuable experience for Australian growers

Industry Best Practice

The first two days of the APAL Future Orchards® International Tour in New Zealand revolved around orchard exploration, insightful discussions and valuable learning experiences for the 40-strong team of Australian growers. The tour covered 10 orchards and a nursery in the Nelson region, focusing on a diverse range of topics including labour challenges, variety selection, systems and cutting-edge agricultural technology.

Day One – Monday 15 January 2024

Fairfield Orchards

The day kicked off with a visit to Fairfield Orchards, where Cherie and Aaron Drummond provided a comprehensive overview of their 150ha orchard, featuring 134ha of pome fruit and 16ha of gold kiwifruit. The orchard showcased a range of apple trees, including Dazzle™ (PremA129), Premier Star™, Royal Gala, Posy™, Envy™ (Scilate), Koru®, Jazz™ (Scifresh) and Pink Lady® (Cripps Pink), all planted on dwarf rootstock with intensive plantings.

Key takeaways
  • Labour challenges addressed through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, with increased competition from Australia.
  • Netting development initiated after hail on Boxing Day 2020, using Drape Net technology.
  • Envy quality program highlighted the importance of dry matter, root pruning and deficit irrigation.

M A Orchards

Morten Tonder shared insights from M A Orchards – a 100ha Honeycrisp orchard – emphasising labour management strategies, thinning processes and data collection. Notable points include a six-week thinning window with 250 staff and a three-and-a-half-week harvest window with 350 staff.

Key takeaways
  • Data-driven approach for thinning management and quality control.
  • Hourly data collection, with a focus on achieving a 90 per cent packout.
  • Transitioning towards full digital integration for enhanced activity tracking.

FarmRight

The FarmRight orchard, spanning 800ha, presented a comprehensive redevelopment plan for Envy apples. The orchard showcased V-trellis and spindle systems, focusing on yield and efficiency. A zero-tolerance policy for European canker and advanced drainage systems were highlighted.

Key takeaways
  • V-trellis and spindle systems implemented for yield and efficiency.
  • Complete tree removal policy for European canker control.
  • Investment decisions driven by a targeted IRR of 10 per cent.

Thomas Bros

Thomas Bros, a sixth-generation farm, displayed a unique blend of apple and kiwifruit cultivation. The use of Regalis® and disease management strategies such as composting canker piles (rather than burning) and a visit to a green kiwifruit block caught the attention of the visiting growers.

Key takeaways
  • Regalis application for quality improvement.
  • Strategic handling of diseased material for social licence considerations.

Wairepo Holdings

Simon Easton graciously hosted lunch at his house for the group with a great view across the region. Simon showed the group a range of his orchard equipment with a retrofitted Fede spray tower catching the eye of a number of growers as a potential option to improve spray coverage. A walk through the orchard saw Simon outline his strategies for crop loading (pruning, chemical thinning and maintaining tree health) to reduce russet levels and use of drape net for crop protection.

Key takeaways
  • Retrofitting equipment can be a highly cost effective method of improving outcomes.
  • Management of tree health can lead to cost effective outcomes relative to a heavy reliance on growth regulator programs.

AB Wood

Our final visit for day one was to AB Wood orchard where we met Donovan. He demonstrated his simple crop loading tool that he has workers use to thin apples to a consistent fruit per branch cross sectional areas with results in fruit size consistency that impressed the group.

Key takeaways
  • Simple tools to manage crop load can be some of the best for consistency.
  • Focus efforts towards highest potential returning blocks.

Day Two – Tuesday 16 January 2024

Vailima Orchard

The second day commenced with a visit to Vailima Orchard, showcasing 2D and V systems for Envy apples. The orchard highlighted root pruning, double-leader grafting and meticulous flower thinning processes.

Key takeaways
  • Root pruning techniques and their impact on crop development.
  • Cost breakdown for flower thinning, pruning and hand thinning.
  • High-yield production and an emphasis on precision.

Hoddys Fruit Company

Hoddys Fruit Company focused on data management, presenting strategies for effective data collection, analysis and decision-making in orchard operations.

Key takeaways
  • Importance of data-driven decision-making in orchard management.
  • Strategies for achieving a high packout percentage through data analysis.

Waimea Nurseries

The group explored Waimea Nurseries, delving into nursery production techniques and industry trends as well as some of the new developments and potential markets at the nursery.

Key takeaway
  • Insights into nursery production practices and emerging trends.

Willisbrook Orchards

Willisbrook Orchards showcased 2D and V systems, providing updates on recent developments in apple cultivation.

Key takeaways
  • Evolution of 2D and V systems in apple orchards.
  • Exploration of new developments shaping the future of apple cultivation.

Wai-West Horticulture

The first half of the tour concluded at Wai-West Horticulture, with a focus on their 2D systems and general approach to management, offering a glimpse into the latest advancements in orchard technology.

Key takeaway
  • Updates on technological advancements influencing orchard management.

The two days were marked by an exchange of knowledge and experiences, with each orchard providing insights into the challenges and innovations shaping the New Zealand apple industry. The tour not only facilitated networking among growers but also built a deeper understanding of the global orchard management landscape. A special thank you to all of the host orchards for their hospitality and openness in sharing their expertise.

The APAL Future Orchards® International Tour in New Zealand is proving to be a valuable experience for Australian growers. Next up is two days of orchard tours in Hawkes Bay, kicking off on Thursday 18 January 2024.

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