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Future Orchards Harvest Orchard Walks – what we’ve seen and heard so far

Business Management

This week the Future Orchards® Harvest Orchard Walks are taking place in the main apple and pear growing regions around Australia. It’s not too late to register for the Northern Victoria (9 February), Southern Victoria (9 February) and Tasmania (10 February) walks.

During this orchard walk series, Ross Wilson and Jonathan Brookes from the Future Orchards–AgFirst team are reviewing the current season, discussing the upcoming harvest and addressing regionally relevant topics using host orchard block data to drive decision-making around management options.

Stanthorpe, Queensland

On Monday 6 February, the orchard walks kicked off in Pink Lady and Granny Smith blocks at Rizzato Orchard in Stanthorpe. The wet spring and subsequent on-off wet/dry conditions are thought to have affected root development, fruit set and fruit size.

Working with what you’ve got: getting more fruit on trees

Across the 25-year-old Pink Lady block (on M111; 5×2 m) the challenge was how to get more fruit on trees. We discussed whether fruit set may have been affected by pollination, thinning programs and the wet weather. With some of these factors ruled out, the conversation moved to identifying future management alternatives. This block is likely to remain in production for at least 10 more years. Some of the possible solutions posed included: tying branches flat and shortening cuts to reduce vigour, and removing larger branches over time.

Ross Wilson (left) leads the discussion with Rodney Rizzato (second from left) about how to get more fruit on these established Pink Lady trees on M111 rootstock. How do you work with what you have and make it profitable?

Working with what you’ve got: filling the canopy

Granny Smith (on M102) was chosen here to provide pollination for the neighbouring Pink Lady block, with one grower commenting, ‘Why wouldn’t you grow Granny Smith when the returns are as good as some of the managed varieties?’

The trees were planted during the recent 2019 drought and tree spacing decisions were guided by existing infrastructure. A V-trellis system was chosen to better use the available space. One of the goals now is to increase canopy cover while balancing fruit load and vigour in the trees. While moving the trees to a different spacing is obviously not possible, there are other options to close the gaps in the canopy. Options discussed for this block were largely centred around strategies to increase branching and the discussion included lifting branches onto the wires, tipping branches to promote branching, cutting 2-finger-width stumps to gain branching and then promoting flat branches by cutting off uprights. Twin or triple stems earlier on also could have been used to fill the canopy with the same number of trees.

What can be done to fill the canopy in these Granny Smith trees planted during the recent drought in Stanthorpe? Promoting more branching by tipping, promoting flat branches, lifting branches onto wires were discussed as options.

Orange, NSW

On Tuesday 7 February, we welcomed warm sunshine during the orchard walk in Orange.

Several factors affecting fruit quality and Class 1 packouts were discussed throughout the session, including managing bitter pit and apple scab, and managing canopy and light penetration to achieve high colour and ultimately higher packouts.

Managing bitter pit

The first block we looked at was Kanzi. Nutrition and bitter pit management are a big focus for this block. Ross recommended soil, leaf or fruit nutrient tests to make sure trees are getting enough calcium and that the nutrient balance is appropriate. Ross explained that in New Zealand, growers fruit test for Ca to assess the risk for bitter pit and to help them make decisions about fruit storability. The other goal in this block was to improve colour. Options discussed included improving light penetration, leaf plucking/defoliation, lifting branches and using reflective mulch. However, as one grower mentioned “You can only do to the tree what it pays you to do”.

Bitter pit was discussed at the November Orchard Walks. Watch a refresher on the presentation by Lee Kalcsits here.

Ross Wilson discusses the use of nutrient tests in helping to identify deficiencies in the management of bitter pit.

What to do about apple scab?

Black spot has been an issue in many regions this season and Orange has not escaped it either. To identify where the management program may have been vulnerable, Ross stepped through the season, the crop cycle and the infection cycle. Ross explained, “Trees become susceptible to infection as soon as the buds burst. As soon as there is new tissue, there is a risk.”

We discussed the following as a checklist:

  • Did you start spraying early enough?
  • Are there gaps in your spray program when the trees were exposed to infection?
  • Do you have the rig and staff capacity to spray in time when there is a risk?
  • Make sure trees are not wet when spraying (also important for russet).
  • Is the spray volume appropriate for the size of the canopy?
  • Is your orchard close to an abandoned block? Ascospores have been reported to travel 30m.

Planning and tips for next season:

  • Get all of the fruit off the trees.
  • Urea helps to break down leaves on the orchard floor.
  • Sweep and mulch.

Which system is best?

The final block in this orchard had been regrafted to Alvina Gala. The goal here was to understand how the trees will work as a 2D multileader system and how to achieve production targets. The group discussed how to prune the trees to fill the canopy and achieve good yields and packouts. Other solutions discussed included a cordon system, promoting horizontal branches, or having set a target for a twin stem with spindle branches.

Many thanks to Rodney Rizzato, Dino Rizzato and Stephen Gotshall for hosting the walks in Stanthorpe and Orange, and to our Front Line Advisors. Thank you to everyone who attended the walks; we hope that the ideas discussed will help growers improve orchard productivity and profitability around the country.

Interested in attending one of our remaining Future Orchards Harvest Orchard Walks? Register for the Northern Victoria, Southern Victoria and Tasmanian walks here.

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