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Future Orchards® June 2022 Orchard Walks – It’s a wrap!

Industry Best Practice

The Future Orchards® Winter Series Orchard Walks wound up in Tasmania and Southern Victoria last week. Here, we recap and consider what we learnt.

With Ross Wilson from AgFirst, and guests Peter Allderman (Pome Fruit Manager, Topfruit) and Nigel Cook (crop physiologist, researcher and nurseryman, Prophyta) we discussed key challenges faced by apple and pear growers in the three countries represented at the orchard walks (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), and how we can use available data to make decisions and target key points in the orchard to improve profitability and returns.

“Growing businesses are made up of individual blocks and it is important to know what the profitability of each block is to make better decisions” Ross said.

 

The biggest challenges identified by guests and growers are similar in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia:

  • Labour – availability, productivity and skill set
  • Cost of production – inputs, freight
  • High productivity and concerns about investments in merchandising and marketing
  • Market shifts because of global political uncertainty
  • Pests, diseases and biosecurity
  • Variety mixes.

Nigel Cook said that in South Africa apples are generally grown in low-chill areas and yields have been taken to high levels (with smaller fruit size compared to Australia) in conditions that apples do not naturally always want to grow in. Nigel said it is important to understand the physiology of the tree so that we can better manage yield and quality. This led to discussions about the timing and style of pruning required to achieve optimum bud numbers and crop targets in the host orchards in Tasmania and Southern Victoria.

In a Buckeye® Gala block at Parramatta Creek Orchard, Tasmania, the challenge identified by host orchardist Troy Layton was to achieve a consistent yield with a more even bud distribution through the canopy.

We discussed how best to prune to:

  • avoid blind wood
  • ensure fruit is evenly distributed in the tree
  • optimise light penetration, making sure that branches have their own space.

In a Nicoter (marketed as Kanzi®) block (multi leader system, on M26) planted in 2017, growers became consultants and demonstrated how they would prune to better fill the canopy in trees that had not established well after being planted in poor soil conditions and damaged by wildlife.

After lunch we moved into a Gala block at Brett Squibb’s orchard to discuss how to overcome the challenge of filling the canopy and achieving good fruit size. Noel Mason, who came all the way from South Australia, demonstrated what he would do in this situation:

The Orchard Walks wound up in Southern Victoria where the final walk for the Winter Series was hosted by Peter Sanders at Sanders Orchards. Despite the rain, more than 50 participants joined us in the orchard. Key points considered at this walk included:

  • the Orchard Business Analysis and knowing what is happening in each block in your orchard business
  • identifying the reason behind a block’s performance and if it can be improved
  • the costs and benefits of holding on to poorly producing blocks
  • managing the bloom time, including application of growth regulators and managing pollinisers and pollinators.

In the orchard, the first stop was a Gala block planted at 12000 stems/ha. This block was very even, making it much easier to train workers on the system. The evenness also helped with light interception. Challenges discussed in a Granny Smith block, planted at 2900 trees/ha, included the need to get more even buds and we discussed notching between green tip and full bloom to get bud break. Finally we headed to a Gala block, where growers as ‘consultants’, considered whether it made sense to continue farming this block that, at the current price/yield dynamic, is not providing a return. The focus in the block has been on the renewal of buds and younger wood to promote size and yield, but when put to the vote many ‘consultant growers’ suggested it might be better to remove the block and regraft or replant.

Many thanks to Troy Leyton, Parramatta Creek Orchards, Brett Squibb, Squibb Orchards and Peter Sanders, Sanders Orchards, for opening their orchards to host the Orchard Walks and share their experiences with others.

 

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