Early spring conditions across the key NSW apple production districts of Batlow, Orange, and Bilpin/Sydney Basin have been quite favourable, with some reasonable precipitation events in the lead-up to bloom ensuring good early fruit growth. Water storages around the districts vary by location but are all generally lower than normal for this time of year. We continue to hope for some seasonal rainfall events to top up soil moisture levels and take some pressure off stored reserves later in the season.
A strong bloom has been followed by a generally good fruit set, and most growers have been taking a proactive approach with primary and secondary thinners to help minimise the amount of hand thinning required in the lead-up to the new year. There have been some reports of a lower than normal set in Pink Lady varieties. While flowers were plentiful in these varieties, growers have reported small petals and weak looking flowers. The cause of the weaker flowers is unclear, but it may be associated with poor bud development due to post-harvest water stress.
I recently saw a timely reminder of the risk of biennial bearing-prone varieties like Fuji entering an off-cycle relatively early in their development. It was a young block of Fiero Fuji on M26 rootstock entering their fifth leaf. This particular block was forecast to bear approximately 50 tonnes per hectare (t/ha) this season, but quite unexpectedly produced a very poor bloom with the majority of buds turning vegetative. As we enter the hand thinning period, growers are reminded that biennial-prone varieties should be prioritised first for hand thinning to reduce fruit and seed load as early as possible.
For some producers, particularly small to medium operators, value-adding and direct sales are an increasingly important part of their income base. It’s great to see renewed interest in the direct interface with consumers. I believe growers are the best qualified to talk about their produce. Cider production and sales has been a particularly exciting space for the apple industry in recent years, and “craft cider” in particular continues to show good annual sales growth. I recently had the opportunity to visit a couple of progressive apple growers in the Batlow cider space who are establishing significant traditional cider variety blocks to supply their growing cider businesses. These new blocks will bring greater flavour and character to the ciders we can produce in NSW and will support ongoing interest among cider consumers. Watch this space.