State roundups: spring editionNews
Find out what’s happening in each growing state entering Spring (note that this article was written several weeks ago for the spring AFG magazine).
New South Wales
Kevin Dodds and Jessica Fearnley
Growers at Orange report a reasonable finish to the 2020 harvest, with late season varieties benefitting from cooler conditions paired with some very welcome autumn rainfall. Early season harvest conditions were hot and dry which was not so favourable for fruit quality. Late-autumn/winter 2020 has to-date been characterised by average to slightly above average rainfall which is very welcome given the recent drought conditions in the region.
Temperatures recorded at Orange Airport and the Agricultural Institute have seen average monthly maximum and minimums close to the typical monthly average, if not slightly below. At the time of writing winter pruning was well underway, with many growers anticipating a possible early spring. Pruning strategies have included retaining more buds that usual with the expectation that the harsh growing conditions of last summer may have had a negative effect on return bloom.
To support grower decision making about pruning and bud retention levels, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) – as part of the Future Orchards® project – will be using microscopy methods to determine bud fruitfulness.
Although it is still six or so months before the start of the 2021 apple harvest, growers have expressed concerns about the impact COVID-19 may have on their ability to source harvest labour.
Bilpin and the Sydney Basin
A wet winter so-far has resulted in full dams and well-wetted soil profiles as we move towards the start of the new growing season in the Sydney Basin. Growers are reporting mild winter temperatures which is raising concerns about winter chill accumulation, dormancy break and flowering.
COVID-19 restrictions on food and drink venues have had a negative impact on cider sales for some Sydney basin producers. On the flipside, farmgate operations had seen a return to reasonable trade with an easing of travel restrictions in NSW in time for the winter school holidays. Fire recovery activities in the Bilpin area are well underway, with many growers moving to re-establish damaged areas of the orchard. Bilpin growers also had the opportunity at a local grower meeting in June to meet with DPI staff and hear about the post fire observations and ongoing scientific research into the fire impacts and recovery strategies
Autumn and winter rainfall totals have been well above average through to July at Batlow, whilst average max and min temperatures have been close to the long-term average resulting in a typically cold Batlow winter.
The impact of the 2020 bushfires has been a particular focus for Batlow orchardists leading into the winter months. The conclusion of late season harvest allowed most growers to turn their attention to the remaining clean-up and planning for the future. Many have been busy writing applications for the various State and Federal Government fire recovery grants. From discussions we’ve have had with growers, many are taking the opportunity to redevelop damaged orchards with a strong focus on new varieties and accelerating the adoption of labour-saving technology including platforms.
In addition to the grant programs, Batlow orchardists have also received support for clean-up of damaged netting and other infrastructure. The NSW State Government’s hazardous tree removal program has dealt with many of the immediately dangerous fire-impacted trees adjacent to orchards, helping to reduce the risk to staff from falling trees and branches.
In early June NSW DPI held an orchard walk at Batlow to share observations from the weeks and months following the fires of fire impact and tree recovery. These observations and a three-to-five-year collaborative research project between NSW DPI and Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) (supported by Hort Innovation) will help to fill in the knowledge gaps for the future. The project is being led by NSW DPI Senior Research Scientist Dr Bruno Holzapfel (Plant Physiologist) supported by Dr John Golding (Postharvest), Kevin Dodds (Temperate Fruit Development) and Tim Pitt (SARDI Crop Sciences).
The state is experiencing a drier than expected winter after heavy rainfalls early in the season. Most dams and water reserves across the state have been replenished, with more rainfall expected across coming weeks.
Growers are well into their winter pruning, and some are now making use of the current dry conditions to prepare and plant new orchard blocks to grow their businesses. Tasmanian growers are also taking the time before spring to look at upskilling and training in their workforce by utilising a new state-based training program developed by FGT and TasTAFE. This program aims to help growers, their employees and new people seeking to get into the industry by providing key entry-level skills and training.
The modular program offers training in first aid, manual handling, ChemCert, biosecurity, chainsaw operations, as well as vehicle operations including tractors, front end loaders, forklifts, quad bikes, and side by side utility vehicles.
Growers looking to reserve a place in the program can do so by going to https://www. fruitgrowerstas.org.au/agriskills-eoi/ and completing the expression of interest form.
Seasonal labour is likely to be one of the big uncertainties going forward. With the availability of seasonal labour anticipated to be low across the country, these shortages are expected to be felt most acutely by Tasmanian growers due to the state’s extra travel costs and ongoing quarantine restrictions.
A number of growers have indicated that they are already adjusting their production systems and season expectations to manage the anticipated l abour shortage. These adjustments have included heavier pruning and early bud thinning to reduce the volume of labour needed during thinning. A number of businesses are also investing in new machinery, with the aim of improving the efficiency of what seasonal labour is available.
FGT has also been working with growers to quantify the expected labour needs for the sector, and is now working with growers and governments to implement a number of initiatives aimed at mobilising and attracting more seasonal labour to the state.
COVID-19 continues to dictate how we function in Australia and across the world. In WA, while we seem to be in control of community outbreaks, as an industry we must be fluid in our responses to issues as they present and be ahead of the game.
At this time of year, we look to the fruit of next season. Rainfall has been steady so far and has been welcomed, particularly by Donnybrook growers. Dams were left wanting last season and more rain is still required, but indications suggest that they are filling. Chill hours are below average at the end of July and it all depends what happens in August. If we get some warm spring days and the trees start to move earlier bud burst won’t be far away, but if cool conditions continue average chill conditions maybe recorded and flowering not so drawn out.
Securing labour is a priority for the upcoming thinning period and 2021 harvest. Backpacker numbers are reported to be dwindling in Australia but we need to understand the exact numbers and locality of the resources still remaining in country in order to prepare for the next season. Pomewest predict that we require around 3,000 workers for pome fruit over the period. Government support with incentives may be necessary to encourage workers to take up orchard positions. Other options suggested to assist growers include seeking a moratorium on the payment of casual overtime. Continuation of access to Pacific Islands seasonal workers will be important to ensure continuity of skilled labour for our larger growers.
COVID 19 Safety plans are essential to protect orchard businesess and packhouses in our current environment. Growers should make sure plans are in place and they can demonstrate risk management to authorities if required in an outbreak scenario.
We have been patiently waiting on the WA roll-out of the National Netting Program and have advised WA discussions will follow the SA roll-out. We believe administration of the $1.5 million grant or rebate for 50 per cent of the new netting purchase and installation costs up to $300,000 will sit with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD). Timing will be subject to negotiations between the Federal and State Ministers. Pomewest would like to see a more equitable ratio of $ between the states and ensure that netting should be limited to permanent netting other than drape for long-term benefits to the industry.
We understand eligible horticulture producers are also able to access Regional Investment Corporation Farm Investment loans, and that the purchase of new netting before 31 December may also be eligible for an immediate tax deduction on up to $150,000 of the cost under the instant asset write-off arrangements.
The DPIRD response to a Queensland fruit fly outbreak in the metropolitan Dalkeith/Nedlands/ Claremont area is escalating. The saving grace is this location is a considerable distance from our major commercial growing areas. The quarantine area has recently been expanded 900 hectares to include five new suburbs and will encompass some 20,000 residential properties. Being old and established suburbs, many fruit trees are involved, particularly citrus trees. This is proving to be a mammoth undertaking by the Department.
The WA Pome industry is extremely thankful to DPIRD who have prioritised the management of the outbreak and are working tirelessly towards an eradication. More information is available on this link.
Pomewest is revisiting our next strategic plan 2021 – 2025, with the assistance of an independent consultant. This will involve consultation, in many forms, with key industry businesses along the supply chain. We are hopeful that this body of work will provide us with clear goals to build the industry, as we are noticing a downturn of investment in pomefruit, with the popularity of avocados taking preference in our major growing areas.
Royal Show 2020
Sadly we have been advised that the 2020 Perth Royal Show will not go ahead.
The winter pruning is drawing to an end with many crops showing high bud numbers, early sap movement and budswell. There is good soil moisture throughout the state with most growers in southern Victoria concerned with possible tree death from excessively wet feet.
In the Goulburn Valley we have seen a constant topping up of soil moisture and good inflows into Eildon which is helping to assure growers of good water availability to grow what is expected to be a larger crop than the 2019–2020 season.
Growers are encouraged to communicate regularly with the chemical suppliers on the availability of agrichemicals as some fungicides may be in short supply.
Fruit Growers Victoria also urges its grower members to prepare early for apple thinning and harvest labour as reduced working holiday makers, seasonal workers and travel restrictions will create extra demand on thinning and harvest labour. On the market front, apples have been of high demand, good quality and good value and we will hopefully continue to see this for the remainder of the year. Pears volume growth is strong but unfortunately seems to be undervalued for the crop that was picked and relative to packouts. Pear exports are relatively strong but again short on value.
For processing fruit, apples have been in short supply and of high value and juice pears are at reasonable value.
It has been very pleasing to finally see the roll out of grants for horticulture netting infrastructure in South Australia in late June. Delays in the development of the guidelines from bushfires and COVID-19 pushed the program back by six months.
After some extremely challenging years for the apple and pear industry in South Australia, this program is a much-needed boost to help build resilience and longevity into the industry. The announcement by the Australian Government of grants of up to $120,000 per hectare co-funding for bushfire-affected apple growers to re-establish and repair damaged or destroyed orchard is also very welcome as impacted growers commence the very long road towards recovery.
Winter rainfalls have been around average so far this season, with perhaps not quite as much opening rain as originally forecast and more rain still required to fill water storages. However, an early start to the cool weather has provided some good winter chill and a number of clear days have delivered good pruning conditions.
Sales and prices in the market continue to hold up reasonably well and with very good packouts there is a renewed sense of cautious optimism in the industry, particularly after some very challenging seasons.
I am thrilled to say that despite COVID-19 challenges, we were able to hold a rejigged Pome Fest 2020, offering more online experiences and bespoke offerings to showcase apples and pears in the Adelaide Hills. Master Chef’s Callum Hann launched the event and the showcase ran through August, featuring a range of online and local activities. The event received funding from the Regional Tourism Bushfire Recovery program, an Australian Government bushfire recovery initiative.
At the time of writing, drought is still one of Stanthorpe’s main concerns.
Although the Granite Belt has been receiving small amounts of rain during the winter months giving the district good moisture through the soil profile, our districts on-farm water storages are still below 40 per cent full. The growers are pleased with the rain they have received but know that until dams are full, they can’t forget the horrors that where experienced during last summer. Our regional council is still trucking over 1.1 megalitres of water every day for the Stanthorpe township.
Our local Future Orchards Front Line Advisor Stephen Tancred, Orchard Services, conducted a Bud Dissection Survey to help growers with pruning decisions due to the unknown impact that last season’s drought stress has had on the trees. This technique is a new tool for the district to help understand what next season’s flower potential will be. Winter chill seems to be tracking on average this year, with stone fruit and the local wattle flowering close to normal timing.
Granite Belt Growers Association (GBGA) are continuing to work tirelessly for their members on a number of issues. A major concern at this moment is the potential labour shortage for farm labour come October/November. The Granite Belt district will be back to somewhat normal production levels with vegetables and berries being planted in traditional volumes, adding to the labour shortage pressure. The GBGA are working with Government on this issue as well as sending out a wish list to all candidates and political parties before the upcoming state election later this year. Other issues the GBGA are asking our political leaders to address are waste and sustainability, drought, industry development, water and electricity.
It is pleasing to see some Government assistance nationally for our industry with netting and orchard replacement schemes, however Stanthorpe growers remain frustrated that there has still been no announcement on a Queensland netting scheme considering the Stanthorpe region is one of the most hail prone in Australia and, due to drought, has many dead trees and prematurely aged blocks that now need replacing earlier than expected.
We thank APAL for their continued support and work with government to assist our industry to remain strong.