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Defoliator could help growers see red

Technology & Data

Of all the things that are critical to get right for a red apple, colour is perhaps the trickiest.

For varieties sold as Pink Lady, a staple of the Australian apple industry, this is especially true. Wait too long for the colour at the end of season and you risk an apple that is over mature, but laying down reflective fabrics or pruning to get light into the lower canopy can be costly, time consuming and have mixed results.

That’s why Jason Shields, orchard manager at  Plunkett Orchards in Goulburn Valley, and APAL Grower of the Year 2019,  was so excited when he came across a piece of AgTech that looked like it could help him get it right.

A defoliator removes leaves from a tree, allowing red-coloured apple varieties to receive a more intense and even exposure to sunlight.

Jason says he was convinced by  the potential of a defoliator as soon as he saw video footage of one in action.

“I saw a YouTube video, maybe 12-18 months ago, and it was made by Fruit Tec,” he said.

“We’ve got some of their other stuff already so the connection was there, and I wanted to take a look at it. I wanted to go to the US initially but that fell through, in the end I went over to Europe last year to take a look and this was one of the main reasons.

“The guy from Fruit Tec came all the way to Italy to meet me, and we went on a few orchard walks. First reaction, literally as soon as I saw it in action, I was sold.

“I reckon this will be the biggest game changer for Pink Lady apples that there will ever be.

“It just improves the colour so much. I reckon about an $8,000 to $12,000 improvement.”

Treated vs control, Credit: Jason Shields, Plunkett Orchards

Jason put Fruit Tec’s REDpulse defoliator into his orchards just prior to harvest and was ecstatic with the results.

“I used it just before harvest, about 10 days beforehand, just before they want to go.

“I can see the difference, absolutely massively.

“I’m just walking through my old block of Pink Lady apples now, which sometimes struggle with colour, and they’re looking great. It’s amazing.”

Consultant Nic Finger, Fruit Help, shared some images taken at Plunkett Orchards during evaluation of the defoliator on Facebook.


The  machine is pneumatic loaded and is operated by joystick and tablet / smartphone. The proposed benefits include increased light and temperature exposure for even colouration, a more compact harvest window with less pickings, better aeration and less humidity.

The time savings are potentially the most significant, with estimates of one or two hours per acre to defoliate with the machines.

Video courtesy Jason Shields, Plunkett Orchards.


Read more

Future Technology for the Modern Orchard (Future Orchards presentation Nic Finger & Craig Hornblower, AgFirst, November 2019)

US: Apple growers blown away by defoliator demonstrations (Good Fruit Grower, December 2019)

agtech defoliator machinery and mechanisation

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