Future Orchards Harvest Orchard Walks – insights from the Batlow and Northern Victoria walksBusiness Management
The Future Orchards® Harvest Orchard Walks wrapped up in Northern Victoria last week. You can read about the insights gained from the first two walks in Orange and Stanthorpe here.
The final two walks on the northern loop took place in Batlow and Northern Victoria. Ross Wilson from AgFirst led the discussions and covered topics such as the current season, achieving block targets, and management options for reaching these targets.
The orchard walk in Batlow was hosted by Nightingale Bros. orchard. The first block we looked at was planted to Aztec Fuji, step-grafted with three stems to transform the block into a 2D wall and grow high-coloured fruit. We visited this block in November as part of the spring orchard walks and since then their goal has shifted to increase the number
of stems to five to better fill the canopy, create short spurs, promote height and intercept more light. Ultimately, the aim is to develop a tree that can be picked from one side by reaching through, making it easier for pickers and managers.
Ross posed the question, “While the capital cost is lower for grafting, is the trade-off for longer term yield potential worth it, compared with replanting new trees at a closer spacing?”
Alternatives for blocks like this that were discussed include dart shoots (slightly longer than spur shoots). Ultimately, as was pointed out by a grower, it comes back to knowing your numbers – how many fruit do you want per tree? Then work backwards from that to determine how many fruits are required per stem and how many stems per tree.
The group also discussed managing biennial bearing in Fuji, including options such as using thinners to encourage return bloom, girdling and applying selected growth regulators in the summer. The first commercial crop for one of the Kanzi® blocks was also discussed, with a focus on the importance of calcium in managing bitter pit. Other strategies for managing bitter pit discussed included ensuring even crop load each year, managing vigour and conducting fruit nutrient analysis to assist with storage decisions.
The final block we looked at in Batlow was an Envy™ block where we discussed options for managing russet. Ross said russet is worse on younger trees and it is more common when there are prolonged wet periods during the time when fruit is 3–5mm in size. Options to consider if you are concerned about russet developing include good frost control, ensuring healthy leaves and spur buds in spring, managing to promote more ‘elastic’ skin, avoiding spraying when wet and using softer chemistry during the higher risk period.
The walk concluded with a barbecue hosted by the Batlow Rotary Club, while participants enjoyed scenic views of the district.
Orchard walk participants stepped out in comfort in the Goulburn Valley with overhead misters cooling us as we discussed growing Dazzle™ for target markets and differences in preferences and specifications for domestic and export. Misters help to reduce the temperature in the orchard, reduce sunburn and keep the fruit pressure high. We discussed the use of twin systems and promoting branches lower in the tree as well as differences between rootstocks. CG202 was considered a more vigorous rootstock, a good option for replant ground and tolerant of Phytophthora, fire blight and woolly apple aphid.
The group also looked at a recently netted Granny Smith block that is now yielding more and higher quality fruit. The nets have helped with control of codling moth, reduced sunburn and reduced bird damage. Things to consider here included the cost–benefit of netting and choice of net design used.
With recent hail damage in the region, many growers are considering how to manage blocks where fruit is not going to be harvested. Some options discussed included:
- removing the fruit in the most cost-effective manner if it’s not worth picking
- promptly removing the fruit to encourage return bloom
- considering harvesting the hail-damaged fruit for juice earlier to support good return bloom and minimise the risk of biennial bearing
- proceeding with caution when implementing thinning programs next season.
At the orchard walks questions were raised about the Orchard Business Analysis, tree training systems, managing bitter pit. More information about this and more can be found in the Future Orchards library:
- Nutrient management for yield and quality (video), Lee Kalcsits, Washington State University
- Nutrient management for yield and quality (presentation slides), Lee Kalcsits, Washington State University
Orchard systems and tree training:
- The fruiting wall concept: an alternative way of training, pruning, thinning apple trees, Alberto Dorigoni
- AgFirst: New planting systems
Many thanks to Billy Brennan, Michelle Brennan, Don Nightingale, Bruce Nightingale and Brent Reeve for hosting the walks in Batlow and Orange and to our Front Line Advisors Kevin Dodds, Carolyn Pearson and Mick Crisera. We hope that the ideas discussed will help improve orchard productivity and profitability around the country.