In pur­suit of ex­cel­lence

Last month the hor­ti­cul­tural con­sul­tant group of AgFirst had its sum­mer con­fer­ence in Hawke’s Bay.

The Orchardist - - Contents - By John Wil­ton

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.

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