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Future Orchards® Autumn walks – wrap

News

Future Orchards® Autumn walks have showcased a wide range of innovative responses to attract and retain labour, increase automation and to produce premium quality fruit to meet packout specifications and improve returns. It was clear the pandemic has been a turning point for change.

Southern Victoria: Investing in quality improvements can lead to better returns

Achieving premium quality is a priority for Andrew and Gavin Corbett at Old Oak orchards who market their apples to high end grocers in Melbourne.

Varieties planted at Old Oak Orchards include Kanzi as twin stem (to reduce vigour), Pink Lady, Envy on both M9 (shorter) and M111 (taller) and SweeTango with Cosmic Crisp on their way.

Market shelf space is already full of red apples, so a lot of consideration is given to the varieties that are selected for planting in this orchard.  Techniques and inputs to improve quality and packout are also essential.

Craig and Ross, in their presentation state that consistent high yield and quality across trees creates labour efficiency and this was reiterated at this and later Orchard Walks.

The Corbetts are

  • using reflective cover to increase colour and packout,
  • constantly adjusting management of their trees to achieve a more even or balanced crop (for example, they found that practices such as double budding help, and using single stems result in more even crops than twin stems),
  • using girdling to reduce vigour, and crop loads and pruning to manage height.
  • collecting and us data to make decisions. They have found that in many cases, only a small increase in packout is needed to recoup the extra costs associated with the inputs required to improve fruit quality.

Figure 1.
This image shows Envy planted on M9 (left) and M111 (right).  On M9 the trees are less vigorous (shorter).

Orchard Walk lead, Nic Finger talking to the growers in the orchard.

Many thanks to our hosts Andrew and Gavin Corbett, Old Oak Orchards.


Orange, NSW: Innovation to attract and retain staff

More than 40mm of rain and thunderstorms prevented the orchard walk but provided a welcome opportunity for local growers to catch up and share local developments and the application of ideas presented by AgFirst’s Craig and Ross.

Joe Caltabiano’s Apple Country Orchard grows commodity varieties including Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji, and high colour Red Delicious.

In their presentation, Craig and Ross from AgFirst talked about making the orchard more attractive to staff and encouraging staff to stay with enticements and providing pleasant accommodation.

To attract and retain pickers, Joe has converted a number of shipping containers into very hip, comfortable two bedroom ‘units’, a communal kitchen and bathrooms.  In addition, pickers who stay for the entire season will receive an additional $5 per bin.  Joe says that so far, it is working.

Shipping containers converted into two-bedroom units with communal kitchen and bathrooms.

Many thanks to our host Joe Caltabiano, Apple Country Orchard, for making his orchard available.


Batlow – Invest in modern orchard systems to target orchard efficiencies

By the time we reached Batlow, the rain had passed and we were able to get out to Montague’s Batlow Orchard and Mount View Orchard both featuring recently established new blocks using Ecotrellis (V trellis) systems.

At Montagues, Envy has been planted using a Bi-baum system in 2.4 m rows (10,833 stems/ha). The aim is to keep trees short so that fruit can be picked straight into the bin – no ladders required.  Jamie Taylor from Montagues said that so far, the only downside to the new trellis system is that a wider row width might more easily fit machines.

At Mount View, Pink Lady was planted in a super spindle system, in 4 m wide rows (10,000 stems/ha).  John Robson at Mount View is so far also happy with the new system. The system is easy to install, with the biggest challenges reported as being getting the net over the top.

At Montague’s drones were used to help get the cables across the orchard to install the nets. Both orchards were netted.  These orchards have only been established in the last couple of years so it will be interesting to see how they perform in the future.

Kevin Dodds also presented an update on the bushfire recovery

V-trellis Envy at Montague Batlow orchard:

 

V-trellis at Mount View Orchard Batlow

Many thanks to Jamie Taylor from Montague Batlow and John Robson from Mount View for hosting the orchard walk.


Goulburn Valley – Consistent fruiting and high quality creates labour efficiency

A lot of attention has been directed to the labour-saving benefits of machinery in the orchard. In the Goulburn Valley machinery is also about improving fruit quality.

At Calimna orchards, Matthew Lenne grows pears, including Ricó® and Piqa® Boo®, and apples, including Pink Lady and Bravo®.  Following a trip to Europe some years ago, he decided on spacing and a system across his orchard and has stuck with it.  This has given him consistency and uniformity to introduce platforms  for a range of tasks, and also made it easier for Matt and his staff to manage and work.

Hedge Trimmer

Jason Shields says, “It’s about setting your tree up to be more productive and grow better quality fruit, not about saving hours of labour.”

Plunkett’s orchard has been experimenting with hand trimmers for a while and bought their first hedge trimmer three years ago.  They found that the more they cut back, the more the fruit was pushed back closer to the tree and the better the quality and accessibility of the fruit. Jason said the structure of this trimmed tree enables you to see every piece of fruit in the orchard, just as AgFirst mentioned in their presentation.

Mechanical pruning is also used to manage vigour.  Jeftomson Orchards used the hedge trimmer last winter and have had no vigour issues on trimmed trees this season. Both Jason and Brent Reeves agreed that, once trimmed trees have their desired structure, they may not use the hedger every year.

Leaf Blowers

Having the correct tree structure also improves the efficacy of other pieces of equipment.  A leaf blower can penetrate approximately 45 cm into the canopy. Where trees are more upright or 2D, the leaf blower can reach both sides of the tree. Furthermore, the closer the leaf blower can get to the tree, the more effective it will be.  Where there are branches poking out, the machine cannot get close enough to the tree.  Timing of application was recommended at no more than 21 days out from harvest, and generally less than 14 days from harvest, depending on the variety. The proportion of leaves removed also depends on variety, tree, season and timing.

Platforms

While platforms are often considered to be beneficial to remove ladders from the orchard, one of the most significant reported benefits was the improved quality as a result of less bruising of fruit.  There were many other factors to think about when considering platforms including how many tasks they can be used for, the terrain to which they are suited, the comparison with performance of pickers.  You can see more about platforms in this video from AgFirst:

Many thanks to Matthew Lenne for hosting the walk and Jason Shields for bringing along the different machinery.

Michael Crisera presented results from his overhead watering trial which you can see here:

Discussing leaf blowers and fruit colouring in the Goulburn Valley.


Adelaide Hills – choose your managed variety carefully

The Adelaide Hills was one region where labour issues were not front of mind for growers.  The region is fortunate to have a reliable source of labour thanks to its close proximity to Adelaide.  Instead, there was a lot of discussion about tree structures and systems, and row width to accommodate platforms and leaf blowers in the steep hills.

In the Adelaide Hills, we also had the opportunity to see fruit on trees of some managed varieties, including Kanzi®, Bravo® and Envy®, in the orchard. Many growers were concerned about the challenges of producing high quality fruit.  There was some discussion about meeting specifications, and around the need to test different varieties locally before growers invest to ensure the varieties are suited to the local environment.  It isn’t just about how the trees grow (‘growability’), but also about how the ‘Clubs’ are run. Some of the positives of the club varieties included consistency of fruit and limited numbers of plantings.  Desirable traits included good communication and grower-friendly royalty structures.

Many thanks to Duncan, Damon and Mike Nicol for hosting the orchard walk.

What’s your favourite variety?


Stanthorpe – Welcome soaking rains arrive

The rain has been falling more regularly in Stanthorpe over the last few months and the region was looking distinctly greener than at the last Orchard Walk in November 2019. Within 24 hours of this orchard walk, the area had received more than 180 mm of rain with welcome inflows into local dams.  As a result of the rain, our walk through the Nicoletti Orchard did not happen.  Instead, Tom Frankcomb, APAL’s Variety Development Manager, stepped up Masterchef style, to share some of the varieties being trialled through the APFIP program.

Stephen Tancred, FLA for Stanthorpe, presented outcomes of his trial looking at thinning of Kalei, Envy and Rockit using Brevis®.  You can view Stephen’s presentation here and the presentation from Phytech is here.

New varieties tasting session as a result of heavy rains washing out the planned orchard walk.


Tasmania – Pick your platform

A number of platforms have been introduced to Tasmania orchards in recent years, and more so this year. At Smith’s Grove orchard we saw 40-year-old Ebro trellised organic Gala apples yielding 10 bins/row (90 t/ha).  Andrew Smith believes that while good pickers are still likely to do better with bags and ladders, for the average picker, platforms will enable growers to get the crop off in time. He estimates that it will cost around $60/bin to pick the Gala from the Ebro frames and that the biggest savings with the platforms will be with thinning and pruning, rather than harvesting.  Hand thinning is a major cost in the organic management system in this orchard, equal to that of harvesting.

Interestingly, the purchase of the platform has moved the conversation in this orchard away from pedestrian orchards and picking directly into bins, back to taller trees. The goal is to have people on the platform all the time – from pruning, to thinning, to picking. If the people on the platform are working on the platform, then they are setting the orchard up to adjust to the platform.

Questions were raised about why people on platforms could not pick as quickly as people on ladders.  One of the lag points was loading bins on and off the machine – this can take up to 5 minutes per bin.  Another lag point was not having consistent and evenly distributed fruit on the trees – again reinforcing what was presented by AgFirst, and also raised in the orchard walk in the Goulburn Valley. With experience though, the lag time was expected to decline as the workers became more accustomed to the new system.

Fruit quality in the bin, reduced staff turnover (no turnover in this orchard), and greater choice of people able to work in the orchard were identified as key advantages of platforms.

The plan for this orchard for next year is no ladders, no bags and no contract labour.

We also heard from Sally Bound who provided an outline of the orchard floor management trials they recently commenced as part of the PIPS program AP19006 ‘Orchard soil health and plant nutrition’. **

Picking platforms in use in Tasmanian orchards

Many thanks to Andrew Smith, Nigel Bartels and Scott Pierce for hosting the orchard walk.


Western Australia

The Future Orchards orchard walk in WA was held at the Manjimup Horticulture Research Institute. The two main topics of discussion were the use of platforms and cherry pickers along with future variety selections.

The pros and cons of platforms and cherry pickers, both for harvesting and other orchard activities, were discussed.  Cherry pickers were considered to be efficient, particularly when used by a competent operator, because fruit picking and bagging activities happen in the front of the body.  Disadvantages included the impact on fruit quality because of bruising.

Growers pointed out that, in order to achieve labour efficiencies on platforms it was important to select a team of people that work well together.  As pointed out in AgFirst’s presentation, working on a platform as a team is a different dynamic in the orchard to the traditional picking situation with individuals on ladders or cherry pickers.

During the orchard walk participants were able to see and taste DPIRD’s breeding selections. Steele Jacob discussed the rigorous and ruthless selection and elimination of varieties following observations of their performance and fruit quality, firstly the breeding plots and later at the evaluation sites.

Growers saw and tasted some of the more promising selections from ANABP.  After the visit to the research site, growers were presented with seven apple selections from the breeding trials and were asked to rate them on a range of criteria, including taste. This provides good feedback for the breeders.

Dario Stefanelli presented an update on the WA apple research here.


Thank you

Many thanks to all our orchard walks hosts, and the participating growers that shared their experience, knowledge and innovations.  Without you, these walks would not take place. Thank you to the FLAs for helping to run the events. These orchard walks were part of the Future Orchards project, AP15004, funded by Hort Innovation via the apple and pear levy and co-contributions from the Australian government.

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