Farms thick with thinners
Full trees call for extra hands on citrus orchards
THANKS to well-timed rain and a fine summer, the North Burnett’s citrus orchards will be glowing gold by late March.
But it won’t happen without a full force of citrus thinners as prime conditions, especially around Gayndah, have meant crops are heavily loaded.
Orchards and job agencies across the region have put calls out for extra help with thinning, to get the job done in time for the fruit to size-up and develop correctly by the time it is ripe.
“If you don’t take some of the fruit off, the energy of the tree is being divided up into too many pieces of fruit on the tree, and all the fruit will be small,” Red Rich Fruits National Farming Operations Manager Tim Teague said.
“But you can see just by looking at trees, if we had of left all that fruit on there then the tree would break if they were to all grow to full size.”
Mr Teague, who manages orchards at Mount Lawless, said they will begin to pick at the end of March and timing is everything.
“In that eight or nine weeks we need the fruit on the tree to go to a commercial size,” he said.
“That defines our timeline so if we were to start
❝ If you don’t take some of the fruit off, the energy of the tree is being divided up into too many pieces of fruit on the tree, and all the fruit will be small.
— Tim Teague
thinning in early March we would be too late because we could take half the fruit off and there’s still not enough time before the fruit matures, for it to size up.”
During a regular or light season, only defected fruit would be removed from the trees but Mr Teague said orchards are “even taking off good fruit” this season.
He said this means, when putting on new thinners, it can be a challenge to train their eye to know what needs to be removed.
At the Mount Lawless orchards, workers are divided into those who thin out the bottom of the tree and those who thin out the top.
“The guys on the cherry pickers do the tops of the tree, so their role is to take off the sunburnt and defected fruit on the tops of the trees only. It’s pretty simple,” Mr Teague said.
“Then we’ve got the guys on the bottom, working on the ground, and they take off anything they can reach on the outside that is burnt or defected.
“After that they have the subjective call about heavier trees. Most of the time, for us, it’s not a case of judging the trees individually but rather a case of blocks.
“So we’ll see a whole block is heavy and say ‘right we want to take off 15 per cent of the fruit’.”
A number of factors have contributed to the trees being particularly full this year.
“Where this year I would see 100 pieces of fruit on the ground, last year there was just 20, bugger all, and it was primarily defected fruit,” Mr Teague said.
“This year we’ve had better rain at better times. And for the last six weeks, in prime growing time, we’ve had no rain so we can control the water that’s going out on the trees.
“Most orchardists would tell you that we’d love the rivers to be full and the orchard to be dry because then we can control itanything we spray and any fertiliser we put on, we can control.”
“A part of it is just a cycle though, you generally get one heavier year and one lighter year.”
Orchardist Emma Robinson agreed that citrus can be cyclical, adding that a more fruitful season isn’t always a good thing.
An oversupply of the fruit can send prices down, but growers in the region remain positive.
The Gayndah orchard has undergone intensive thinning after an abundance of fruit came through over summer.
Red Rich Fruits' National Farming Operations manager Tim Teague said the trees are full at the Gayndah Orchard.
A worker thins citrus trees at Gayndah.
TOP JOB: Margarito Anino has been working at Red Rich Fruits' Gayndah Orchard thinning the tops of trees.PHOTOS: FELICITY RIPPER