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Introducing the new Focus Orchards

Research & Extension

In great news for the industry, Hort Innovation has re-funded APAL and AgFirst to continue running the Future Orchards™ program comprising the twice yearly nationwide orchard walk roadshow and regional Focus Orchards trials.

New Focus Orchards manager Arames Volpato (rt) and Future Orchards Front Line Advisor Stephen Tancred (lt).

With APAL set to launch a fresh five-year Future Orchards program for the apple and pear industry, it will notch up 10 successful years of what has been a highly effective technology transfer project. With humble beginnings, but clear intentions, the program launched in 2006 with the aim of doubling productivity per hectare by 2012 and attracted federal government funding to support the cause. Through its success with AgFirst at the helm, the program was granted further support with industry levy funds being contributed and as such allowed a continued focus on productivity and international best practice.

Focus Orchards

In 2012, the program received funding for a further two years and added several new components to the already proven model including the Focus Orchard concept and introduction of Front Line Advisers (FLAs). These components were new to APAL’s members and consisted of selecting two orchards in each of the eight growing regions to be profiled, technically supported and utilised to conduct small applied trials for the greater benefit of the region.

The intention was to empower the local experts (FLAs) and support the Focus Orchards in tackling local problems with AgFirst support and program funding. The model would also see business plans conducted on the 16 Focus Orchards and case studies generated to highlight activities over the two years. Furthermore, the local FLAs would conduct fruit size monitoring within the Focus Orchards and manage this data within OrchardNet®, a purpose built benchmarking and orchard management tool.

The applied trial component within Focus Orchards has been a highlight for all involved with many regions claiming this facet of the Future Orchards program to be their favourite. The ability to tackle hot topics within the industry, with local and international expertise and all for a fraction of the cost of a fully funded R&D project is a real strength of the program and will remain an integral component going forward.

The FLAs have produced some exceptional outcomes over the last two years and have covered many topics including the following:

  • Enhancing young tree growth (Stanthorpe, QLD) – Stephen Tancred, Orchard Services
  • Best fertigation practices for optimum young apple tree growth (WA) – Rachelle Johnstone, DAFWA 
  • Root pruning Pink Lady (Orange, NSW) – Stephen Tancred, Orchard Services
  • Fertiliser budgeting in a Pink Lady apple orchard (Orange, NSW) – Stephen Tancred, Orchard Services
  • Growth effects of GA applications on Kanzi trees (Mt Lofty, SA) – Paul James, Lenswood Co-operative
  • Root pruning (Oakleigh Orchard, Lenswood, SA) – Paul James, Lenswood Co-operative
  • Simple pruning rules and post-frost root pruning demonstration (Batlow, NSW) – Kevin Dodds,NSW DPI 
  • Ruby Pink fruit quality when grown in singles vs. clusters (Three Bridges, VIC) – Virginie Grégoire, Fruit Growers Victoria 
  • Comparing the use of Regalis® and Ethrel® for vigour (Plunkett Orchard, Ardmona, VIC) – Michael Crisera and Virginie Grégoire, Fruit Growers Victoria 

Details of these and many other case studies can be viewed on APAL’s website by navigating to the Future Orchards archive library (give APAL a call if you need help finding what you need).

New Focus Orchards for 2016

With the success of the Focus Orchards model over the last two years, APAL has again made a commitment to facilitate this aspect of Future Orchards. The first Focus Orchard program will go for three years and the second iteration for two.

The Focus Orchard program will again include the following key activities within the model:

  1. One Focus Orchard per region (eight regions).
  1. Two applied trials per region addressing local issues and challenges.
  1. Orchard walks on site.
  1. Focus Orchard case studies generated highlighting outcomes of trials and general observations.
  1. Business plans conducted on each of the eight Focus Orchards.
  1. Fruit size monitoring conducted on at least two varieties and managed within OrchardNet.
  1. Magazine articles produced discussing Focus Orchard activities.
  1. AgFirst Skype support to the local FLA and Focus Orchard managers.
  1. Participation within the Australian Orchard Business Analysis.

We are now pleased to announce the first batch of businesses and respective management teams that will be looking after the new series of Focus Orchards. Their willingness to participate for the benefit of all others doesn’t go unnoticed and we thank them for their support and wish them all the best in their quest for sustained orchard success.

The Focus Orchards hosts and managers for the next three years are: Arames Volpato, Cottonvale (Qld); Ian Robson, Batlow (NSW); Joel Brockhoff, Lenswood (SA); Bernard Hall, Orange (NSW); Justin Miller, Hillwood (Tas); Ian Armour, Warragul (Vic); and Bo Silverstein, Shepparton (Vic).

Q&A with new Focus Orchards managers

Arames Volpato, Volpato and Co.

Where is your orchard located? Newlands Road, Cottonvale, Qld.

What is the size of your orchard? 12 hectares.

What varieties do you grow? Pink Lady™, Gala, Red Delicious, Kalei, Granny Smith, some Fuji and just started Kanzi®.

What are the main rootstocks on the farm? MM109, MM106 and MM778.

Who are the key people on your farm? Mum, Dad, my wife, two casual workers and myself.

Do you grow, pack and market? Yes, but only a small amount, the rest goes to a large grower.

If you could change one thing about your orchard what would it be? Planting density and rootstock, and I would like a bit more land to plant new systems.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the Focus Orchards program? More knowledge about how to get the best results with what I already have, and a clear direction on which system to adopt in future plantings.

Ian Robson, Mount View Orchards

Where is your orchard located? Tumbarumba Rd, Batlow (three properties), NSW.

What is the size of your orchard? 80 hectares of apples.

What varieties do you grow? Pink Lady, Gala, Fuji, Sundowner, Jonathan, Granny Smith and Red Delicious.

What are the main rootstocks on the farm? MM106, M26 and M9.

Who are the key people on your farm? Myself and my father who has been managing the farm for 40 years.

Do you grow, pack and market? Just grow for Batlow Fruit Co-operative as Mount View Orchards operates as the largest shareholder.

If you could change one thing about your orchard what would it be? To have more dwarfing rootstocks such as M9 to reduce tree size and improve quality.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the Focus Orchards program? A business analysis which will assess costs versus production for individual blocks and provide an overall evaluation of profit and loss for the business.

Joel Brockhoff, Otherwood Orchards

Where is your orchard located? Swamp Rd, Lenswood, SA.

What is the size of your orchard? 20 hectares, including 15 hectares of apples and the rest a mixture of avocados, citrus and kiwifruit.

What varieties do you grow? Rosy Glow, Ruby Pink, Gala, Fuji and Rockit™.

What are the main rootstocks on the farm? M26 and M9.

Who are the key people on your farm? Dad (Peter Brockhoff) and myself.

Do you grow, pack and market? Most fruit goes to the Lenswood Co-operative and the rest of the fruit goes to farmers’ markets.

If you could change one thing about your orchard what would it be? Improve yield and packout as well as labour efficiencies by getting robots to do all the manual work. I would consider hail nets but they would have to be cost effective.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the Focus Orchards program? General improvement in the business and improve organisation skills as a manager of the business. It would help to get an economic evaluation of the business and get access to yield and quality data.

Bernard Hall, Bonny Glen Fruits

Where is your orchard located? Canobolas Road, Orange, NSW.

What is the size of your orchard? 40 hectares.

What varieties do you grow? Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Royal Gala, Fuji, and Kanzi.

What are the main rootstocks on the farm? 106, M26, M9, 102 and Bud9.

Who are the key people on your farm? Bernard Hall, Charlene Thurston, Peter Barlow, Paula Neill and Leanne Pearce.

Do you grow, pack and market? Yes – we also pack and market for other growers.

If you could change one thing about your orchard what would it be? Tree density and root stock selection.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the Focus Orchards program? More productivity per hectare, get higher / better quality packouts, higher nett kilogram returns, and learn more about orcharding.

Justin Miller, Miller’s Orchards

Where is your orchard located? Hillwood Rd, Hillwood, Tas.

What is the size of your orchard? 30 hectares of apples and pears; and 4 hectares of cherries.

What varieties do you grow? Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Kanzi and Jazz™.

What are the main rootstocks on the farm? M26 and MM106.

Who are the key people on your farm? Justin and Brendan Miller run the day to day operations of the farm and packing shed.

Do you grow, pack and market? Yes.

If you could change one thing about your orchard what would it be? Bigger blocks with more uniformity.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the Focus Orchards program? I don’t have any specific goals for the program but am starting with an open mind. I’m keen to learn and I know every time you interact with others you learn something.

Ian Armour, Armours Apples Pty Ltd

Where is your orchard located? Nilma-Bona Vista Road, Warragul, West Gippsland, Vic.

What is the size of your orchard? Planted area is 36 hectares.

What varieties do you grow? Gala, Pink Lady, Fuji, Granny Smith, Jazz and Golden Delicious.

What are the main rootstocks on the farm? M9, Pajam 2, Mark, Ottowa 3, M26 and M7.

Who are the key people on your farm? General, orchard and packing shed managers.

Do you grow, pack and market? We grow, cool store and pack.

If you could change one thing about your orchard what would it be? Make it all younger with the newest strains.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the Focus Orchards program? All the team can learn from working with the experts and the visitors.

Bo Silverstein, Silver Orchards

Where is your orchard located? Prentice Rd, Orvale, Goulburn Valley, Vic.

What varieties do you grow? Several varieties of apples including Gala, Pink Lady, Rosy Glow, Sundowner™, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious. And several varieties of pears including Corella, Williams, Bosc, Packham, Josephine and new plantings of Piqa®Boo®.

What are the main rootstocks on the farm? MM106, M26 and M9 on the apples; and D6 and Quince C on the pears.

Who are the key people on your farm? Maurice, Bo and Rein.

Do you grow, pack and market? Simply concentrate on the growing and use a variety of packers and marketers to get the fruit to market.

If you could change one thing about your orchard what would it be? Like all growers our goal is to strive to consistently produce good volumes of high quality fruit that obtains a market premium. We have a range of challenges to address to achieve that. Variety mix is critical as is net to protect the crop. We also have a significant challenge to slow vigour on the vigorous rootstocks and, on the converse, grow a good canopy on the dwarf rootstocks. Maximising the new pear variety is also exciting.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the Focus Orchards program? We are on a continual learning curve and have always been open to new ideas and change. Being a Focus Orchard manager will hopefully allow us to reach our goals quicker. It should be an interesting three years.

Thanks to all our previous Focus Orchards managers

Previous Focus Orchards in the inaugural years have included growers such as:

  • Robert Green, Oakleigh Orchards, SA
  • Mark Trzaskoma, Battunga Orchards, Vic
  • Jason Shields, Plunkett Orchards, Vic
  • Brad Ashlin, TopQual, Tas
  • Paul Good, Newton Brothers, WA

APAL with the continued support of AgFirst look forward with excitement to the next phase of Future Orchards and encourage the industry at large to continue to engage in the program and benefit from the enormous depth of knowledge and experience on offer.

Acknowledgements

APAL’s Future Orchards program is funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd (Hort Innovation) using the apple and pear industry levy funds from growers and funds from the Australian Government. AgFirst is a key Future Orchards partner.

About the author

Jesse Reader is a Horticultural Consultant at AgFirst Australia and can be contacted on 0419 107 245 or jesse.reader@agfirstaustralia.com.au.

 

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