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Winter orchard walks – What we have learnt so far 

Industry Best Practice

With the first two orchard walks held this week in Stanthorpe, Qld, at Nicoletti’s Orchard and in Batlow, NSW, at Barolli Orchards, we share some of the key points we have learnt so far.  

Returning for the June Future Orchards® orchard walks we have Craig Hornblow from AgFirst. We have also been joined for the first week by guest Willie Kotze, Horticultural Technical Advisor Pomefruit at Dutoit, South Africa. 

In the orchard we focused on identifying where improvements, or investments, in the orchard could provide a positive return to the business.  

Here are some of the things we have learnt so far:  

1. Growers globally are facing similar cost structure challenges to those experienced in Australia.  

Craig noted that the challenges faced by growers, on a cost per kilo basis, are not that different around the world with common concerns around the profitability gain, including cost structure improvements, variety choices and making decisions about how to best manage this.   

 2. Understanding the business numbers will help in decision-making, ensuring better informed decisions about where to focus resources and investments to optimise returns in the orchard.  

 In particular, understanding block returns can focus decision making on whether there something in a less profitable block that can be turned around to make a more profitable contribution to the business?   

In Stanthorpe, using industry data from the Orchard Business Analysis (OBA) we discussed the cost structure of different varieties and how we can shift parameters in the orchard to achieve better returns through canopy management, nutrition, consistency across the block and improved fruit quality.   

For example, quality issues with russet and bitter rot have meant that Class 1 packouts in some varieties have been low this past season in some Stanthorpe orchards, and as a result, so have returns.  The lower-than-expected returns have left growers re-evaluating their variety mixes, particularly where this has resulted in returns that do not cover the cost of production. 

“Class 2 is not where the income is coming from, it’s about maximising Class 1. Class 1 is where the profit comes from,” Craig said. 

What are the decisions that can be made to turn around the current situation? If packouts are low, can they be improved?  

Identifying which factors can be managed is a first step.  If the season had not been as wet or there had been no rain shortly before harvest, there may have been fewer issues with cracking and post-harvest rots, but weather is difficult to manage.  

Nutrition is more easily managed. Changing the calcium program over the last few years has helped to improve issues with bitter pit.  Growers at the walks were hopeful this would continue to improve as trees matured.  Russet has also been a problem in some Envy™ (Scilate) blocks in Stanthorpe, reducing Class 1 packout. Craig and Willie shared their experiences of russet in New Zealand and South Africa, and the group discussed a range of factors that may be contributing to the development of russet during the growing season, such as wetness, humidity and nutrition during stages of fruit set.  By better understanding and managing these factors in the orchard, it may be possible to lift Class 1 packouts and returns on these varieties.  

 3. A holding pattern may not improve the bottom line in the long term.                            “It is important to look at the numbers and understand them to help make decisions – and some of these decisions may be difficult,” Craig said.  

It is important to consider the return on every resource used or invested. Ask yourself could you do something different with the resources you are investing on a particular block and get a better return by using or applying them elsewhere?   

At the Barolli Orchards in Batlow we looked at vigorous Pink Lady and Gala blocks as well as new trees planted since the bushfires. Using numbers from the model orchard presented in the Orchard Business Analysis (OBA) for the example, it was clear a particularly vigorous Pink Lady block was not returning a profit. In orchard we discussed whether it was worth investing more resources in trying to get this block to return a profit and how long it might take to achieve yield and packout targets, or if it might be more profitable, in the long run, to focus those resources on the new plantings in other parts of the orchard.  

Fruit sizing issues this season have meant lower than desired packouts.  We discussed if it is possible to slow down, or calm, the trees to get the fruit into a preferred size range and make the block profitable. In South Africa, Willie said, they work with a lot of vigorous trees. Management options that were discussed included tying branches down, setting more flower buds on one year old wood, using plant growth regulators, trunk girdling and root pruning.  

However, the question of timing remains, how long might it take to achieve the yield and packout targets and is that the best investment for a positive return to the business?   Or is it better to invest resources into other part of the orchard?  

We extend our thanks to Daniel Nicoletti, Nicoletti Orchards, and Nathan Barolli, Barolli Orchards for their generosity in hosting the orchard walks and sharing their experiences.  


Next stop….. 

 Northern Victoria 

Thursday, 16 June – Silver Orchards, Orrvale. REGISTER HERE. 

Friday, 17 June – Special Pear Event, Ymer Orchard, Lemnos. REGISTER HERE. 

Western Australia 

Monday, 20 June – Collins Bros. Orchards, Pemberton. REGISTER HERE. 

South Australia 

Tuesday, 21 June – Oakleigh Orchards, Lenswood. REGISTER HERE. 



Growers analysing Pink Lady and Gala blocks during future orchards walk.



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