Future Orchards: Creating positive change within your orchard (Part II)Industry Best Practice
This article was written by Jonathan Brookes, Horticultural Consultant, AgFirst, and was first published in the Winter 2022 edition of AFG.
In this 3-part series, Jonathan discusses how growers can build a roadmap for change with data and good planning. Part II looks at defining goals as a key part of making changes in the orchard.
Part I of this series looked at the importance of understanding the challenges and opportunities in your orchard to help you to make positive changes. To achieve the future improvement results you want, it is also critical to understand the goals you want to accomplish. From there you can build a roadmap of how to get to where you want to be.
Defining the goals
The key part of making changes in orchards is knowing what to change and when.
We all know of management decisions that have been made that have not been well thought out, for example:
- growing varieties in areas that are not climatically suitable
- making a large investment on redevelopment, where the risk from hail or sunburn is high but not managed
- continuing to try to compete with low yields or low-paying varieties in a high-cost environment
- expecting that because we managed to find pickers to use bags and ladders in the past, we would be able to do it again in the future.
Quantify your change decisions with objective data
Production and financial benchmarking tools, such as OrchardNet and the Orchard Business Analysis (OBA) reports, were introduced into the Future Orchards® program to help growers to compare their existing blocks to current and best practice results – allowing for block performance ranking – and to identify where improvements might be made. Blocks can be ranked by year, by tree age, by profit and by cost to fully understand how each block is really performing.
Some of the Future Business theme topics were more grower specific or orchard location specific, especially around labour supply and climatic conditions. In these situations, growers need to have built up key local knowledge but look at it through the lens of their own specific orchards. Not all situations are negative; as growers, we need to work hard to enhance our potential strengths. In most situations the Future Orchard focus included what the future state might look like for each of the different themes (labour, trees, production, packout and climate), as well as potential future solutions.
The next iteration of Future Orchards will focus on how to use technology and tools to find the next level of improvement within an orchard business. This also has real opportunity for positive change in orchards, but it does need to take place after the macro business challenges are well addressed and under control.
Growers who are confident in answering the macro questions (see Part I) and have good solutions might need to look at changes that are the next level down. How do you make improvements with more precision?
- Efficient and effective data collection (key information such as fruit counts, size and quality).
- Highly efficient and timely information (soil moisture, climate and markets).
- Production mapping and traceability.
Focus on making changes at a more precise level, collecting good data, and applying tools and techniques to grow with objectivity and continue to develop a ‘smart orchard’ that will be profitable and sustainable for the future.
Goal setting – What needs to change?
We have already discussed the need to build a big picture view of your orchard business with specific focus on how successful or otherwise each block is when considering key Future Business themes, such as labour, trees, production, packout and climate.
Making high-quality, informed decisions is key, using grower management tools such as OrchardNet, and quality background information from APAL’s Orchard Business Analysis (OBA), meteorological services, local advisors and grower groups, and fruit market feedback. All these combine to help build a much stronger picture around what the key issues or strengths are that keep arising when looking at the entire business and each individual block.
Then, develop a business matrix or ranking system that allows you to easily identify where your areas of effort would be best put. What needs to change? What should you be careful to not change?
Goal setting timelines
There are very few orchard business situations where it is fiscally sensible to try to change the entire business all in one go. Having a well-researched, long-term, continuous redevelopment plan is one of the keys to a sustainable orchard business. As a long-term guide you should be turning over about 5 per cent of the orchard each year to have a 20-year lifespan. It is critical that you are also planning what your future is likely to look like in 2, 5, 10 and 20 years’ time. Remember to re-evaluate your predictions every year and update your future targets and assumptions as new information comes to date.
The challenge for each individual grower is to set their own goals; to work out what the focus is going to be on each specific orchard block to ensure a thriving and prosperous business in the future. Equally important is to judge the optimum level of change to make within the orchard business that is neither too little, nor too much, but just right.
In Part III of this series, Jonathan will show you how to build a roadmap for the future of your orchard, based on informed decision-making.