Focus Orchard and Trial Update April 2017

By Jonathan Brookes, AgFirst

Focus Orchard blocks overview

The Focus Orchards blocks are designed to take existing orchard blocks, and through focused management optimise the results they can achieve, and show industry how this is done along the way. The individual Focus Orchard blocks for the regions of Orange and Batlow have had challenges and opportunities identified within them and improvement targets created. The performance of these blocks along with all other Focus Orchards is available on OrchardNet®.

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To make improvements, we identified the specific challenges of each individual block. We identified where our focus needed to be and what needed to be done to achieve our targets. In many of the blocks the management themes are the same:

  • establish a canopy that fills its allotted space;
  • ensure good light distribution throughout the canopy for good fruit colour and bud quality;
  • set up crop loads that allow for fruit of the correct size and quality;
  • maintain a calm vigour status when the tree is fully established;
  • ensure this happens without issues such as biennial bearing; and
  • minimise tree to tree variability.


The Focus Orchard property in Orange is Bonny Glen Fruits, owned and run by Bernard and Fiona Hall. The local Front Line Advisor (FLA) is Adam Coleman from the NSW DPI who collects a lot of the local data. Assistance is also provided by Anthony Spruce, the local E.E. Muir & Sons representative.

With the business plans on Bonny Glen Orchards, the focus for improvement is multi-pronged. We have looked into the orchard management and support team, the capture and recording of key performance data and the construction and implementation of seasonal management plans.

This season saw a very wet start to spring in Orange with some over shedding of fruit numbers and increased black spot pressure in individual blocks as a result.

The Focus Orchard blocks

Cherry block Royal Gala

A young block at moderate planting distances planted on a powerful (M111) rootstock: The challenges we faced are creating the correct vigour status in this block to ensure we establish a full fruiting canopy without allowing the tree to become over vigorous.

To date we are getting reasonable results using crop load and correct pruning techniques to manage vigour. It is likely that other management tools will be needed such as root pruning, girdling or Regalis® to also assist to bring this block to a calm vigour status.

Dam block Kanzi®

A young intensively planted block on M26: In general, it has started well with significant canopy development in the first couple of years. Tree height at the end of its fourth leaf almost is equal to row width, a great achievement. It does have a slight level of tree to tree variability starting to show up which will be the focus in the next few years. Some areas will need slightly increased vigour status, whilst others will need a focus on vigour reduction. 

Assessing and quantifying the level of variability will be important for the future as well as the management plan that will be needed once the data is collected and analysed. It is quite possible that if tree to tree variability is well managed this block could be a very high producing block.

Bonney Glen Dam Kanzi just prior to 2017 harvest (lt to rt) Kevin Dodds, David Williams, Bernhard Hall, Adam Coleman.

Bonny Glen Dam Kanzi just prior to 2017 harvest (lt to rt) Kevin Dodds, David Williams, Bernhard Hall, Adam Coleman.

Spray block Royal Gala

This block was grafted in Spring 2016 as a stump graft with no sap drawer: Due to the continuously wet conditions in late winter /early spring the block was grafted too late. As a result, the graft success has been highly variable. It has since been decided the block will be fully removed and replanted. This is a good lesson when grafting without a sap drawer, it can be successful but only if done very early before the major sap flow period. Sap drawer branches certainly give greater flexibility with grafting timing.

Hay shed Royal Gala

A relatively young block planted on a rootstock that was more vigorous than ordered:  Need for large numbers of weaker fruitful branches. No tip cutting (shortening), and a significant tree training program. Looking at significant vigour reduction and increased cropping potential focus.

(lt to rt) Photos of Hay shed Gala showing canopy development and vigour status.

(lt to rt) Photos of the Hay shed Gala block showing canopy development and vigour status.

Hay shed Fuji

Another relatively young block planted on a rootstock that is potentially more vigorous that optimum: Focus on vigour control and optimised crop load is a must for this block. Biennial bearing tools such as Ethephon, BA, summer NAA, etc. are likely to be important. Poor pruning (heading cuts) carried out historically have been extremely conducive to excess vigour in this block and have been strongly discouraged. The root pruning trial that was carried out in this block a couple of years ago showed good results.

Hay shed Pink Lady®

More relatively young trees planted on a powerful root stock: This block has a mixture of mainly strong vigorous tree with a few weaker stubby trees amongst it. It is important that the canopy volume of all trees is established to its full allotted space and overall vigour is reduced to a calm but highly fruitful status.

This season this block did not perform as well as targeted with black spot reaching significant levels after a very difficult spring.

Photos of hay shed Pink Lady block.

Photos of the Hay shed Pink Lady block.


The Focus Orchard property in Batlow is Mount View Orchards run by Ian, Donna and John Robson. The local FLA is Kevin Dodds from the NSW DPI who collects a lot of the local data, assistance is also provided by Matt McMahon of the Batlow Fruit Co-op.

The business planning focus was a multi-pronged approach. Looking at the people, the required information along the way, as well as the construction and implementation of seasonal management plans.

This season in Batlow has seen challenges from black spot infection due to the wet conditions in spring. Harvest has given good conditions for fruit colour with yields close to targets in many blocks.

The Focus Orchard blocks

Dundee Kanzi M26

A young block on M26 rootstock that did not get off to a great start with tree support structure and irrigation going in too late: Needs special focus on vigour encouragement techniques. Need to monitor crop load shoot growth and increase in trunk cross sectional area. Significant bird damage reduced crop numbers for the 2017 harvest but the block will be fully netted for 2018.

Dundee Kanzi M9

This block is basically the same as the Dundee Kanzi M26 but even weaker: A good project for showing how very weak trees can be grown to full size if handled correctly. Need to also keep focus on tree to tree variability. Again, birds caused damage for this year with the block fully netted for 2018.

Ehmsens BL Pink Lady

A grafted block of Pink Lady that carried 113 t/ha in 2016 managed with the thought that the 2017 season would likely to be an off year for this block. Management would need to focus on maximising the 2017 harvest crop load that would set in this block as well as minimising any biennial bearing effect in the future. Final crop numbers have not come in at the time of writing but crops look good.

Mount View Red Fuji block 4

Another young grafted block with good tree canopy development: Potentially running excess vigour in the 2016 harvest season with a good crop needed for the 2017 harvest season. Care is needed with chemical thinning as the block is still young. This is critical timing for establishing a consistently high cropping block of Fuji. In an area where Fuji has a history of developing biennial bearing. 2017 harvest is not fully finalised but it looks good possibly slightly lighter than winter targets.

(lt to rt) Photos of block 4 Red Fuji, block 5 RG Galaxy, block 5 North Red Fuji.

(lt to rt) Photos of block 4 Red Fuji, block 5 RG Galaxy, block 5 North Red Fuji.

Mount View Royal Gala block 5

A reasonable block of Royal Gala on M26 rootstock: Tree filling approximately 70 per cent of allotted area including some variability across the block. Some biennial bounce in the block. 2017 being the potential on-year.

Mount View Fuji block 5 north red

An old block of Fuji on wide spacings and Northern Spy rootstock: Significantly challenged canopy volume (50 per cent of allotted area) due to hill side location. Need to maximise yield for the canopy that exists. Reduce the severe biennial swing that exists in the block. 2017 crop looking OK but not fully finalised. Possible focus on nitrogen (N) deficiency post-harvest to reduce fruit set issues in spring. This is a relatively difficult block that may not have a long term future.

Mount View Pink Lady block 10

An even block of Pink Lady on M26 with a slight biennial tendency. 2017 predicted to be the on crop again (100 t/ha) need to also focus on getting vigour well balanced in this block. Again, fruit on the trees is looking okay but total crop yields not yet finalised.

Trial updates

  1. Nematode infestation trial Batlow and Orange districts. (Kevin Dodds and Adam Coleman)

    The June 2015 Orchard Walk guest presenter Tienie du Preez indicated that nematodes were present in areas where poor tree establishment was taking place. As part of the Future Orchards® trial program it was decided in the Orange and Batlow regions to carry out a nematode infestation survey.

    Healthy trees and poor trees were sampled in the same block at six different blocks. Soil samples were sent to SARDI Horticultural diagnostic service for nematode identification and quantification. Four genus of pest nematodes were detected with several of the results at levels that would be considered to cause economic damage.

    The predominant nematode species in both Batlow and Orange was Root Lesion Nematode (RLN) with the five highest levels detected all from suspected “unhealthy” trees. The fact that some level of RLN detected in these samples were in excess of published economic damage thresholds should be of concern to all growers preparing to establish new orchards, particularly in replant situations. Growers should give serious consideration to pre-establishment nematode testing and soil treatments to reduce the risk of nematode damage occurring in new orchard blocks.

    It was interesting to note that R&R Contractors are sterilising some Batlow orchards with Tri-Form 80 this autumn, a combination of chloropicrin and a nematicide. So, the sterilant option is there if you want to use it.

  2. Cincturing and Summer NAA to improve return bloom in Red Fuji (Kevin Dodds, Batlow)

    This trial was originally set up as a continuation of the last seasons’ investigation of the use of Summer NAA in the on-crop season to encourage return bloom in the off-season. As well as NAA application this season, treatments were added to look at the use of mid season cincturing to help produce more regular season to season cropping.

    The block selected was block 5 north Red Fuji: It is part of the Focus Orchard blocks identified above and although relatively old it has not filled its allotted canopy area. The block has been prone to significant biennial bearing and was coming into an on-crop for the 2016/2017 season.

    Progress to date

    Due to the NAA application not being applied the trial is now a demonstration of cincturing only. Recent discussion has also introduced post-harvest nutrition as another treatment to help assist return bloom. The results next spring during the flowering will be very interesting with discussion being held over introducing post-harvest nutrition into the mix of biennial bearing solutions.

  3. Irrigation trial (Adam Coleman, Orange)

    The second trial in the Orange region was originally set up as looking at a range of blocks that showed excellence in apple production, size and fruit quality and the associated nutrition status of these excellent blocks.

    The direction of this trial was changed by the local COG committee late in the program to include irrigation application as the focus instead of nutrition. Due to the late changes a change over process between the local FLA and budget constraints the irrigation trial was not able to be implemented for the 2016/2017 season and is looking to get underway for 2017/2018.


Further information about these trials and others undertaken by participants of the Future Orchards program is available on the APAL website. Special thanks to Bernard and Fiona Hall in Orange; John, Ian and Donna Robson in Batlow; the FLA’s Adam Coleman and Kevin Dodds from NSW DPI; and Matt McMahon from the Batlow Co-op who also helped to supply information for this article.

APAL’s Future Orchards® program is funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd using the apple and pear industry levy funds from growers and funds from the Australian Government. AgFirst is a key Future Orchards partner.

By |April 26th, 2017|Future Orchards|

About the Author:

Horticultural Advisor, AgFirst