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Making the decision to invest in netting

Industry Best Practice

During extreme hail events, netting can pay off in a single year by reducing hail damage to apples.

Orchard management adjustments are one of the many considerations when planning to net your orchard according to Pomona Valley’s Andrew Maughan.

Any form of netting is better than no netting, but identifying what will work best for your orchard requires getting out and asking some questions, Andrew Maughan, Business Development Manager at Pomona Valley, told delegates at this year’s APAL Technical Symposium. 

Sharing learnings from Pomona Valley’s orchard netting journey, Andrew took delegates through the substantial capital investment and necessary adjustments to orchard practices required for the successful implementation of netting, along with benefits, key fundamentals, considerations around ROI, and an honest account of the areas where not everything is better under netting.  

Around 30 per cent of Pomona Valley’s apple production is currently netted, with a strategy to expand netting to 50 per cent of existing orchard over the next three years – fast-tracked from five years in the wake of the recent devastating hail events in the Goulburn Valley region. All new developments are set up to be covered from third or fourth leaf and the netting infrastructure is incorporated in the trellis design at planting. 

Pomona Valley uses a mix of permanent flat quad net and pitched (knitted and woven) netting in a range of colours, with the majority retro-fitted over existing production.  

By now, most growers would be familiar with the benefits of netting. Andrew mentioned hail protection to avoid crop losses, reduced blemishes caused by wind and sunburn and subsequently improved packouts, up to 30 per cent reduction in water consumption (depending on region), minimisation or elimination of bird and bat damage, more timely spray applications due to wind reduction, and some frost protection.  

On the business side, he emphasised the marketing benefits of guarantee of supply: “If you lose all your supply for a year and you’re out of the market, it’s a big problem. We can’t underestimate the benefits of having guarantee of supply from a customer point of view.” 

Be clear on what you want the netting to deliver and know your budget. Be sure to factor in packout gains and risk mitigation. Understand what will suit your region and risks – consider different netting for snow, hilly terrain and other features.  

Consider capital outlay versus ongoing operational costs, which can vary dramatically depending on netting types. Ensure the netting is properly installed and don’t compromise on the net quality or the structure itself – and always remember, maintenance is a must.  

Finally, be ready for the fact that the changing microclimate under the net will require an orchard management adjustment.  

General considerations

  • Know what the machinery requirements are for the style of netting you decide to use, and the level of skill required to operate them.  
  • Get out there and ask questions! Visit other orchards and growing regions to learn the pitfalls and techniques used to manage apples grown under netting. Be inquisitive and seek out growers who have been on the netting journey for decades.  
  • Understand the block designs and layout – things rapidly get complicated when you start taking factors such as cross cables into consideration.  
  • Explore different types of pole structure: timber (taking rising prices into consideration), concrete, or steel.  
  • Have your blocks GPS surveyed and designed for accuracy.  
  • Take into account over-row/multi-row spraying and future-proofing for automated machinery considerations by focusing on uniformity.  

Not everything is better under netting

“You are changing the environment under the net, which means your growing practices will need to be modified,” Andrew said. “Colour develops later and there is increased mildew and woolly apple aphid. Importantly, be very respectful of pollination and careful around what your netting does in terms of beehives and the native bee population. If you intend to have walls, consider bird net rather than quad netting to allow bees through. Ensure the net is high enough above the tree canopy to let bees move around.” 

Finally, growers should take the time to analyse and model their IRR (internal rate of return, or the annual rate of growth that an investment in netting is expected to generate).  

“From our analysis, netting can be justified over a 10-year period based on quality and packout improvements. Obviously, growing higher value varieties will offer a superior IRR. The five-year IRR for pitched net is better than flat net, and still slightly ahead after ten years. However, the life of the flat net and reduced spring workload pressure of flat netting structures deliver an IRR advantage over pitched netting but requires more up-front capital.” 

Andrew notes that the IRR improves significantly if there are hail events during the 10-year period, while extreme events mean netting can pay off in a single year.  

“At the end of the day, any form of netting is better than nothing. What works for some orchard operators will not for others.”  

Andrew Maughan

Further reading 

“Netting – making the decision to invest”, presentation by Andrew Maughan at APAL Technical Symposium 2023,

“Untangling the netting options”, AFG Winter 2023, 

“Four growers share their insights into netting options”, AFG Winter 2023, 

NULLOptimisation of pollination within protected cropping environments”, 


This article was first published in the Spring 2023 edition of AFG.

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