Quality nursery stock: the foundation of a good orchard
The team at Olea Nurseries strives to deliver quality trees and is constantly looking to source new rootstocks and varieties for both commercial growers and the retail sector.
Luigi and Angelina Bazzani established the nursery in 1966. Their son David has taken the reins and his children, Daniel and Laura, have now joined the team.
The wholesale nursery is in Manjimup in the heart of the Karri forests of south-west Western Australia.
Its rich, friable, well-drained soil makes it ideal for producing bare-rooted fruit and ornamental trees. Olea’s range includes varieties of pome fruit, stone fruit, citrus, olives, avocados, persimmons and almonds.
David said they introduced new varieties all the time. In terms of apples, they grow Gala with sports marketed as AlvinaPBR Gala (sport) and Cherry Gala™ PBR (mutation) proving to be more popular. Plus the high-coloured mutations of Cripps Pink (from which fruit may be sold using the trade mark name Pink Lady®) being Rosy GlowPBR and Lady in RedPBR. The other main varieties currently sold are Fiero® PBR Fuji, KaleiPBR, Nicoter (from which fruit may be sold using the trade mark Kanzi™), Scifresh (from which fruit may be sold using the trademark Jazz™), and the new WA developed ANABP-01 (from which fruit may be sold using the trademark Bravo™). (Editor’s note: PBR denotes a variety with plant breeder’s rights assigned to it.)
“Which varieties we grow is not up to nurseries as much as it used to be; a lot of varieties are now coming in as club varieties, which means there are other owners who are going to manage it,” David said.
“The nurseries’ role is to do the nursery work, and by limiting the planting and having more control, hopefully the company can try to get rid of ‘boom and bust’ with varieties and maintain a higher price in the market for the product.
“That’s the plan.”
Olea grows under licence to a variety of companies and breeding programs and is also a member of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association of Western Australia.
It employs about 30 local people full-time and has a handful of backpackers helping at busy times.
Olea grows trees for commercial orchardists and the Perth retail market.
David said growing trees for the retail market, especially in pots, let them provide full-time employment for more people as it meant they could sell trees outside the traditional bare-rooted timeslot of winter.
This team manages about 50ha of nursery and crops. The property covers 350ha, and the areas on which they plant trees change every year to reduce disease pressure. They also grow 40.5ha of avocados.
About half of the clients who buy apple trees from Olea are in WA and the other half are in the eastern states, including in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley, South Australia’s Adelaide Hills and Queensland’s granite belt. The trees are transported in containers, making it cost-effective.
“We like to think we grow a good product and I believe that we do, and our tree prices are as good as anyone else’s,” David said.
A measure they take to ensure quality and clean plant material is growing their own rootstock.
Growing a quality foundation
All the apple trees at Olea are grown on rootstock they have propagated themselves.
David said because most rootstocks didn’t strike easily from cuttings, they produced most of them with layer beds.
This involves growing a row of a rootstock variety for one year to a nice size then, in the next winter, laying them down and pegging them onto the ground.
In spring, the rootstock trees start to shoot suckers and David and his team slowly cover them with sawdust throughout the growing period.
Each one of those shoots grows its own roots. They harvest the new rootstock trees in winter and grow them for another year before the team buds a variety onto them.
“It goes dormant and then in the spring we cut the rootstock just above that bud and it shoots away and then is grown for another year,” David said.
“So, the process takes three years, but the trees are sold as two-year-old because they’ve only been an individual tree for two years.”
Importance of certified rootstocks and disease-free material
Olea Nurseries uses only rootstocks certified by the Australian Pome Fruit Improvement Program (APFIP) as free from known viruses for its commercial trees. APFIP is supported by the apple and pear research and development levy.
David said having rootstock free of known virus was very important for tree health and ensuring scion material budded onto it remained true to type.
He said it had taken years to transition the nursery to have all-certified rootstocks. Olea has three beds of a rootstock called MM109 that David said was used only for trees for the Perth retail market as it was a vigorous rootstock that could survive in Perth’s sandy soils. It is grown 500m away from the certified rootstock beds (far above the 30-40m required).
“Having all-certified rootstocks is important to our business because we want to grow quality trees,” David said.
“We grow our own rootstock so we know what we have but there would still be rootstock used in the industry that’s not clean.
“Apples, they’re a commodity. They’re grown all over the world, and because it’s a competitive business we have to utilise every possible tool to try to get the highest production and quality for the lowest cost.
“Healthy trees are definitely going to help in that.”
Olea Nurseries was a founding member of the Australian Nurserymen’s Fruit Improvement Company (ANFIC), which now has 12 nursery members. Among its key operations is importing varieties on its own behalf or on behalf of any member or non-member.
David said ANFIC routinely tested all trees it had imported while they were still in quarantine. If a tree was found to have a virus – even a virus that was already present in Australia – ANFIC did not release it.
“We’ll re-import it until they send us one that’s free of virus, then we get that from quarantine and we bulk it up on our certified rootstocks,” David said.
David said he expected to grow more fully certified trees produced with rootstock and scion material certified by APFIP.
While he said there would be “definite benefits” in using virus-free scion or variety material, too, he said it was important to be wary because sometimes a specific virus gave a variety a specific, desired trait – say, colour.
“I’m for virus-free everything but we just need to be careful that we don’t go losing varieties or some characteristics of varieties.”
David said they’d grown some certified trees and he expected they would grow more in the future.
He said while certification was important to prove a tree was free of known viruses, there were many trees sold that were of the same health status but hadn’t been certified by APFIP.
“I think the most important thing is that clean material is being planted,” David said.
Production cycles and ordering
David said while some growers ordered their trees well in advance, many did not.
As a result, when they budded them onto rootstocks some two years before they were to be delivered to the orchard, nurseries had to speculate on which varieties could be sold.
“If you are looking for the biggest potential saving on tree prices, that’s where it is: getting growers to order well before they want the trees. Then the nurseryman knows all the work he is doing is going to have an income at the end of it.”
He said ideally growers should order before the nursery budded the variety onto the rootstock in February – about 14 months before delivery of the trees to the orchard.
“When you speculate you may get to the point where you’ve grown 1,000 trees but you might only sell 500. The cost of producing the other 500 that didn’t sell is going to add costs to the 500 that did,” David said.
“We burn trees every year. You can rework them or replant them for another year but then, potentially, instead of burning them at year two you burn them at year three.”
David said while it would be helpful for orchardists to order trees earlier, variable seasons, industry supply and markets made it difficult.
“We need to try to get into the position where there’s more stability throughout the industry,” he said.