In pursuit of excellence
Last month the horticultural consultant group of AgFirst had its summer conference in Hawke’s Bay.
Each year we have this meeting and it is alternated between Nelson and Hawke’s Bay. We bring together all our horticultural consultants for these conferences and this year there were five from each district, ranging from recent graduates to senior consultants with many years’ experience in the industry. This year the theme was “Future Excellence” and followed a programme put together by Hawke’s Bay consultants, Jonathan Brookes and Brett Feehan, to highlight various orchard blocks among our Hawke’s Bay clients where exceptional orchard performance was either being achieved or new planting and training methods were being trialled.
GROWING SYSTEMS VERY DIVERSE
Our pipfruit industry, particularly in Hawke’s Bay, is rather unique in that there is a very wide range of growing systems used to produce the crop. These range from our older, semiintensive central leader plantings, right through to a range of orchard intensification systems to ultra-high density ‘V’ trellis systems. Examples of excellence can be found across the whole range of plantings and growing systems.
It is also fair to say that striving for excellence in execution of orchard husbandry practices will often override planting systems. Adoption of a particular growing system for an orchard depends very much on the circumstances of the operator at time of planting, their objectives for the planting, suitability of the site for a particular planting approach, not to mention future mechanisation possibilities.
Among new planting systems, there is considerable emphasis given to narrow, fruiting wall canopies which lend themselves to mechanisation. Further intensification of planting densities comes with this trend because to capture the high proportion of light interception required for top yield and quality performance, between row distances must decrease. So we are now seeing plantings with between row spacings down to 2.4m or less.
Some of these plantings have gone into established vineyards and utilise the existing vine support structure and irrigation infrastructure. Where it is possible to utilise existing vineyard infrastructure, initial orchard establishment capital costs are significantly lower.
It is clear that in the future there will have to be strong focus on maintaining productive fruiting wall canopies. Excess tree vigour will be the enemy of such canopies as it is in most mature orchard canopies. Some see mechanical hedging to have a role here, however I doubt that it can do the job on its own. It will need to be integrated with other canopy control management practices including some hand pruning work.
From left: Fig 1. The AgFirst consultant group admiring a high performing Kanzi® block with Graham Hope, Freshmax Operations Manager.
Fig 2. This SweeTango orchard has been established in a vineyard with 2.4m spacing between rows. The trees on M9 rootstock are trained as double leaders and canopy kept narrow by mechanical hedging and topping with follow up hand pruning to shoots between the leaders and to remove any excessively large wood coming out into the alleyway. There is virtually no ladder work.