Insights and innovations from the APAL Future Orchards International Tour to New Zealand
From 15–19 January 2024, 40 Australian growers and industry professionals visited two of New Zealand’s major growing regions as part of the APAL Future Orchards® International Tour.
The tour took participants through a comprehensive exploration of topics, from labour challenges to cutting-edge agricultural technology. From the intricacies of canopy management to data-driven decision-making, the tour provided a wealth of knowledge and fostered networking among growers from all over the world.
Days one and two, set in the Nelson region, offered a deep dive into orchard management strategies, showcasing the innovation of New Zealand’s apple industry.
The tour then transitioned to Hawke’s Bay for days four and five, uncovering insights into the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle and witnessing the intricate systems and technologies employed by local orchards.
APAL’s Industry Services Manager for Grower Development and Trials, Nic Finger said, “Engaging with growers across both the Tasman and Hawke’s Bay regions was a fantastic opportunity for our growers, offering a first-hand look at the diversity in planting systems, varieties and management styles. The on-farm interactions provided a great networking opportunity, fostering connections among Australian growers, suppliers and their New Zealand counterparts. Sharing experiences in apple and pear production directly in the orchard environment was a great aspect of this tour.”
Ian Cover, APAL’s Industry Services Manager for Biosecurity and Extension expressed, “Exploring the orchards in New Zealand has been an eye-opener, witnessing the unique biosecurity challenges and innovative solutions employed by growers. The exchange of knowledge between Australian and New Zealand growers has been pivotal in enhancing our collective understanding of biosecurity practices in apple and pear production. Traversing the Tasman and Hawke’s Bay regions allowed us to appreciate the different biosecurity landscapes and extension approaches. It’s evident that collaboration and shared insights are crucial in advancing our industry’s resilience. The camaraderie built during this tour will undoubtedly contribute to stronger practices back home.”
For Jacob and Isabella Fankhauser of Fankhauser Apples, the tour served as an eye-opening experience, providing them with a unique opportunity to observe and compare the orchard management practices in New Zealand to those in Australia.
“The tour opened our eyes to new ways of growing and managing our orchard back in Australia. Seeing how the Kiwis tackled challenges like Cyclone Gabrielle, made us recognise that orchard management is a shared global tough experience.”
APAL wishes to thank all of the host orchards for their generosity in sharing their insights and expertise throughout the week.
We also extend our appreciation to the sponsors, Sumitomo and Unitec, for their crucial support in making this tour possible. Their commitment to the advancement of the apple and pear industry is commendable. Thank you to AgFirst for orchestrating the tour visits and sharing their knowledge and advice across the week.
Finally, thank you goes out to the 40 Australian growers and industry professionals who participated in the tour. Your active engagement and contributions have played a pivotal role in creating a collaborative and insightful atmosphere, fostering connections and enhancing our collective understanding of the challenges and opportunities in orchard management around the world.
Day One – Monday 15 January 2024
The day kicked off with a visit to Fairfield Orchards, where Cherie and Aaron Drummond provided a comprehensive overview of their 150ha orchard, featuring 134ha of pome fruit and 16ha of gold kiwifruit. The orchard showcased a range of apple trees, including Dazzle™ (PremA129), Premier Star™, Royal Gala, Posy™, Envy™ (Scilate), Koru®, Jazz™ (Scifresh) and Pink Lady® (Cripps Pink), all planted on dwarf rootstock with intensive plantings.
- Labour challenges addressed through the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, with increased competition from Australia.
- Netting development initiated after hail on Boxing Day 2020, using Drape Net technology.
- Envy quality program highlighted the importance of dry matter, root pruning and deficit irrigation.
M A Orchards
Morten Tonder shared insights from M A Orchards – a 100ha Honeycrisp orchard – emphasising labour management strategies, thinning processes and data collection. Notable points include a six-week thinning window with 250 staff and a three-and-a-half-week harvest window with 350 staff.
- Data-driven approach for thinning management and quality control.
- Hourly data collection, with a focus on achieving a 90 per cent packout.
- Transitioning towards full digital integration for enhanced activity tracking.
The FarmRight orchard, spanning 800ha, presented a comprehensive redevelopment plan for Envy apples. The orchard showcased V-trellis and spindle systems, focusing on yield and efficiency. A zero-tolerance policy for European canker and advanced drainage systems were highlighted.
- V-trellis and spindle systems implemented for yield and efficiency.
- Complete tree removal policy for European canker control.
- Investment decisions driven by a targeted IRR of 10 per cent.
Thomas Bros, a sixth-generation farm, displayed a unique blend of apple and kiwifruit cultivation. The use of Regalis® and disease management strategies such as composting canker piles (rather than burning) and a visit to a green kiwifruit block caught the attention of the visiting growers.
- Regalis application for quality improvement.
- Strategic handling of diseased material for social licence considerations.
Simon Easton graciously hosted lunch at his house for the group with a great view across the region. Simon showed the group a range of his orchard equipment with a retrofitted Fede spray tower catching the eye of a number of growers as a potential option to improve spray coverage. A walk through the orchard saw Simon outline his strategies for crop loading (pruning, chemical thinning and maintaining tree health) to reduce russet levels and use of drape net for crop protection.
- Retrofitting equipment can be a highly cost effective method of improving outcomes.
- Management of tree health can lead to cost effective outcomes relative to a heavy reliance on growth regulator programs.
Our final visit for day one was to AB Wood orchard where we met Donovan. He demonstrated his simple crop loading tool that he has workers use to thin apples to a consistent fruit per branch cross sectional areas with results in fruit size consistency that impressed the group.
- Simple tools to manage crop load can be some of the best for consistency.
- Focus efforts towards highest potential returning blocks.
Day Two – Tuesday 16 January 2024
The second day commenced with a visit to Vailima Orchard, showcasing 2D and V systems for Envy apples. The orchard highlighted root pruning, double-leader grafting and meticulous flower thinning processes.
- Root pruning techniques and their impact on crop development.
- Cost breakdown for flower thinning, pruning and hand thinning.
- High-yield production and an emphasis on precision.
Hoddys Fruit Company
Hoddys Fruit Company focused on data management, presenting strategies for effective data collection, analysis and decision-making in orchard operations.
- Importance of data-driven decision-making in orchard management.
- Strategies for achieving a high packout percentage through data analysis.
The group explored Waimea Nurseries, delving into nursery production techniques and industry trends as well as some of the new developments and potential markets at the nursery.
- Insights into nursery production practices and emerging trends.
Willisbrook Orchards showcased 2D and V systems, providing updates on recent developments in apple cultivation.
- Evolution of 2D and V systems in apple orchards.
- Exploration of new developments shaping the future of apple cultivation.
The first half of the tour concluded at Wai-West Horticulture, with a focus on their 2D systems and general approach to management, offering a glimpse into the latest advancements in orchard technology.
- Updates on technological advancements influencing orchard management.
Over the course of Day Three – Wednesday 17 January 2024, growers made their way from Nelson to Napier for the start of the of the Hawke’s Bay leg.
Day Four – Thursday 18 January 2024
New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc. (NZAPI)
The day started with an overview of the Hawke’s Bay region, known for its 800mm average rainfall and 7000ha of pipfruit orchards. The recent focus on high-value varieties like Envy™ (Scilate), Dazzle™ (PremA129), and Rockit™ has led to a significant increase in production costs. NZAPI representatives Karen and Rachel emphasised the importance of market access and the need for a compulsory levy every six years.
Plant and Food Research (PFR)
Ben Van Hooijdonk from PFR highlighted a shift in apple varieties from tart to sweet with a focus on the Asian market. The presentation covered the challenges faced due to fireblight, emphasising the need for robust genetics. The discussion included insights into new rootstock developments like PFR2, showcasing higher productivity.
Liam Sykes of Ngai Tukurangi discussed the development of their G3 kiwifruit and apple orchards. With a focus on precise management and 2D orchard development, their emphasis on cleanliness from the second year onwards was noteworthy. The orchard tour delved into growth metrics, crop loading strategies, and innovative pest control measures.
Nathan and Todd from Rockit™ provided insights into their fourth-year CG202 orchard. The discussion covered orchard layout, pruning strategies, and the economics of thinning. The use of modern technologies like SnapGrowing and aerial analytics showcased the industry’s commitment to data-driven decisions.
Craigmore Spring Hill
Ben James from Craigmore presented their fourth-year spindle trees and highlighted the efficiency of their system. The orchard’s five-wire structure and innovative pollination practices were key points of discussion.
The fourth day of the tour included a historical perspective from Bryan D’ath, shedding light on market deregulation.
Day Five – Friday 19 January 2024
Ngai Tukurangi (Cyclone Gabrielle Overview)
Ross Wilson of AgFirst discussed the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on their G3 gold kiwifruit orchards, emphasising the challenges and strategies for recovery. The discussion included canopy renewal, PSA management and the meticulous steps taken to combat the aftermath of the cyclone.
Ross Wilson led the tour at Sunpeach Orchard where he shared insights into their successful apple orchard. The discussion covered the meticulous setup for high-yield varieties like Envy™ (Scilate) and Dazzle™ (PremA129), emphasising the importance of choosing the right variety for profitability.
T&G Trial Block (Evenden)
Jareth and Jan from T&G discussed their FOPS 2 x 3m trial block, covering the management of flood-related challenges and the advantages of the FOPS system. The discussion also touched upon grafting strategies and trials with new apple varieties.
Warren provided a tour of T&G’s state-of-the-art packhouse, highlighting the advanced technology and efficient processes involved in packing and exporting apples. The discussion covered the commitment to quality and the significant investment in automation.
Ti Mata Piqa
Discussions with Prevar revolved around new varieties and opportunities with a case study around the PIQA™ BOO™ pear.
Murray Shearer from Coldstream showcased the innovative use of deer netting for orchard protection. The discussion covered diversification into pears and the challenges associated with this approach.
The Hawke’s Bay leg highlighted the importance of the use of the right systems, a strong organisational culture and data-driven decision-making. Emphasis on professionalism, planning orchard development, and adapting to challenges were recurring themes. The tour showcased the resilience and adaptability of the New Zealand orchard industry in the face of natural disasters and changing market dynamics.
We look forward to seeing you all again at the next APAL Future Orchards® International Tour!