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Spraying lesson and orchard business analysis

Research & Extension

Author:
Angus Crawford Technical
Manager, APAL
03 9329 3511
0427 111 852
acrawford@apal.org.au

APAL’s Future Orchards® summer walks held last year featured special guest Dr David Manktelow from freshLearn New Zealand who spoke about optimising spray application in apples and AgFirst’s Ross Wilson (Northern Loop) and Craig Hornblow (Southern Loop) presenting the Orchard Business Analysis

Despite the busy time of year the events enjoyed good attendances with the exception of Batlow, and Tasmania, which were lower than normal. Tasmania was held north of the state in Spreyton, near Devonport, so probably fewer southern growers were able to travel the 3-4 hours, but we did get some growers along who hadn’t attended any Future Orchards events before.

Spraying apples

David Manktelow (right) discussing spray coverage with growers at SA Future Orchards walk Dec 2014

The orchard walks included a spraying systems demonstration, discussions on crop loading, and estimating tree water use using evapotranspiration as a backup to soil moisture monitoring. David Manktelow from Hawke’s Bay region New Zealand powered through two weeks of travelling to each of the eight main apple and pear regions covering both the northern and southern loops. This is the first time any guest has done both loops, yet David’s enthusiasm did not waver.

David’s main messages was, “to achieve effective and efficient spraying there is always a trade-off between travel speeds and spray volumes”. When farmers in the audience were asked, in most cases their travel speeds were about six kilometres per hour, which is good, however, some were travelling at three kilometres per hour – achieving excellent coverage but the work rates were poor.

“I would much rather see a sprayer going quickly in good conditions than a sprayer travelling slow in poor spraying conditions,” said David. He added that he wants growers to maximise work rate without compromising target penetration and coverage.

Work rates

To help ensure a good balance between work rate and effectiveness of spray application a work rate calculator is now available in the Future Orchards® library. The work rate calculator can determine the amount of hectares sprayed per hour as well as the cost. The spreadsheet takes in a number of data input variables such as row width, spray volumes, travel speeds and gives an indicator of how much can be saved simply by adjusting these inputs – the main ones being litres per hectare (through concentrate spraying) and kilometres per hour.

Hitting the target

Growers can place small pieces of water sensitive paper throughout the canopy to measure spray coverage – then adjust tractor and fan speed to improve coverage.

“What often happens is a failure to accurately direct the spray to the target, putting the wrong nozzle, putting the wrong outputs into different parts of the canopy and leaving gaps in the output,” said David.

He explained that sprayers always need to be set up to spray the row that they are in. For example, apples at full bloom that have 50 per cent of their leaf area where spray pushes into the adjacent row, amounts to only 10 per cent of deposits. This is different to stone fruit at flowering where, due to lower leaf area spray, often reaches six rows across and amounts to 40 per cent of deposits sprayed from adjacent rows.

Around the industry there are several types of sprayers which vary in advantages and limitations. The axial fan is the most common and is suitable for a range of canopies.

The importance of air speed was a common theme where speed of the air closest to the fan is fastest, then it decelerates quickly before the spray hits the leaves. To get the best coverage, the optimal speed of the spray at the point of impact with the leaves is around 12 metres per second. No one would ever really know if they are achieving this, but a practical solution is to look down the next row and between each tree – if you see a little puff of spray going into the middle of the adjacent row then your air speed is OK. This was demonstrated at the orchard walks and what we measured was around 25 metres per second for an axial fan, just right to achieve this effect.

We saw some axial sprayers that were set to speeds of up to 40 metres per second that were pushing spray right past the target and into the next row. The higher fan speed suits larger canopies and may still be necessary in these cases.

Droplet sizes

David Manktelow checks the fan speed of a sprayer at the Future Orchards event because air speed influences spray coverage.

In most cases when using orchard sprayers, small droplets of between 70-150µm should be used as they increase coverage, adhesion and spray use efficiency. Larger droplets will reduce the number of deposits by at least 10 per cent and means an increase in the volume of spray required.

“Larger droplets will hit only one side of the leaf and completely miss the other side whereas small droplets can swirl and hit some of the untargeted sites which can be quite useful,’’ David explained. ‘’The only time larger droplets should be used is if there is a specific label requirement or a drift issue with a neighbour.”

He added that for herbicide spraying, if you are not using air-included nozzles (that produce larger droplets and lower drift), you should be.

Calculating application rates

Tree row volume is still the best measurement to determine application volumes for different types of canopy.

David gave good practical tips on how to measure just the canopy height, which excludes the height of the trunk, the average canopy horizontal spread and the row width. Then, with tree row volume determined, he explained that we then go on to use a coverage factor.

“For a canopy that is relatively open, one litre of spray will cover 14m3 and if it’s a little bit denser or needs more wetting, like a miticide, then a coverage factor of 11m3 is used,” said David.

Orchard Business Analysis

The Orchard Business Analysis (OBA) is a component of Future Orchards and has been conducted by AgFirst since 2008. The data collected provides an annual snapshot of the pome fruit industry’s financial and production performance and tracks trends over time. When used with OrchardNet® the OBA provides an excellent benchmarking tool for orchard businesses.

“We sit down with 24 apple and pear growing businesses around Australia and we collect their financial records, income, cost of production, and crop yields by variety to create some industry key performance indicators,” explains Ross.

A key trend tracked by the OBA is that there is a wide range of results for profit per hectare.

“The good ones who are going ahead are getting better and the ones doing not so well are getting worse,” said Ross.

After presenting the OBA, AgFirst pooled their insights into the six upper quartile growers in the OBA who are defined by the top 25 per cent in trading profitability. In other words, these are the top six growers in the OBA who are making the biggest profits.

Revenue

“Revenue is a key driver,” said Craig. AgFirst breaks revenue into three categories: production, packout and price (The 3 P’s).

Production across the main varieties (Fuji, Granny Smith, Jazz™, Pink Lady™, Royal Gala, Sundowner™) shows that upper quartile growers produce nine tonnes more per hectare of these varieties compared to average growers. From this higher production per hectare, the upper quartile growers also achieve an average 7 per cent more Class 1 packout. For price, the report showed that these growers tend to attract a higher premium for their fruit getting an average of 15 cents more per kilogram.

The main driver in getting the higher price was variety mix and higher quality thresholds.

“The top four varieties were Jazz, Fuji, Royal Gala and Pink Lady,” said Ross. “For upper quartile growers, 70 per cent of their orchard is planted to the highest paying varieties. By comparison, the average is 45 per cent.

“The upper quartile growers are not always the absolute leaders in picking the next variety or breaking new ground. But they are often the second movers – evaluating all the information and then jumping and going into it in a slightly bigger way.”

Revenue as driven by production, packout and price tends to be higher across the board for the upper quartile growers. Craig Hornblow asked the audience: “If we increase production by 10 per cent, then our packout by 10 per cent then our price by 10 per cent. Does that give me a 10 per cent increase in revenue?”

“No, it gives a 30 per cent increase,” answered Craig.

In effect the gain is cumulative and the upper quartile is seeing an edge on each of those points.

Cost of production

Some may have thought to be a profitable grower means you are automatically a low cost grower. The OBA data tells us that this is not the case and of the 24 growers in the OBA, the cost of production of the most profitable growers is variable and spread evenly across the spectrum.

Upper quartile growers spend $56,985 per hectare (total orchard-gate cost plus post-harvest) versus the average grower who spends $49,120 equating to $7,865 more per hectare. However, the cost per kilogram is only slightly higher at $1.28 per kilogram (upper quartile) compared with average $1.25 (average).

“Upper quartile growers are spending more per hectare,” said Ross. “You can’t grow a high quality crop on the smell of an oily rag.”

A major reason for the higher costs is labour. The average grower spent $2,550 per hectare on thinning and upper quartile growers spent $4,120. With upper quartile growers harvest costs per hectare are higher due to picking a bigger crop.

“Top growers are always focusing on hand thinning and pruning – they spend a lot of money on thinning to get a good distribution of fruit and higher yields,” said Craig. “Relying solely on chemical thinning always leaves holes in the canopy and the size is not quite right because the distribution is not quite right.”

The net result of the upper quartile growers compared with average growers from the OBA is summarised in Table 1 taken from the AgFirst presentation. In this table we see the average grower is still doing quite well with operating surpluses at sustainable levels, but compared with upper quartile growers we find there are big gains to be had.

Finally as Ross Wilson put it, “If you can reach the upper quartile, I can guarantee you’ll be successful.”

Average($ per ha) Upper quartile of growers($ per ha) Average($ per gross kg) Upper quartile of growers($ per gross kg)
Total revenue $59,271 $87,450 $1.51 $2.01
LessOrchard gate costs $26,812 $33,507 $0.68 $0.69
LessPost-harvest costs $22,308 $23,107 $0.57 $0.56
= Cash operating surplus $10,151 $30,836 $0.26 $0.76
Table 1: Net result of average versus upper quartile growers (Source: AgFirst presentation).

 

Presentations and supporting material from this Future Orchards walk event are available in the Future Orchards library. Access to OrchardNet is also provided as part of Future Orchards. 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to all Front Line Advisors for their help in organising the orchard walks Australia-wide: Stephen Tancred (QLD), Sophie Folder (TAS), Tony Filippi and Jabbar Khan (VIC), Susie Murphy White (WA), Kevin Dodds (NSW) and Paul James (SA). Thanks also to David, Craig and Ross for their presentations and to all the growers and others who attended and contributed insightful questions and for providing us with feedback.

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

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