got it cov­ered

If bad weather hits, cherry trees at a south­ern Mid­lands or­chard are pro­tected by re­tractable walls and roof in a mat­ter of min­utes. Karolin Mac­Gre­gor re­ports

Tasmanian Country - - FRONT PAGE -

Among the bare hills for Tas­ma­nia’s south­ern Mid­lands a new state-of-the-art cherry or­chard is cre­at­ing plenty of in­ter­est.

Es­tab­lished two years ago at Jeri­cho, Honey­wood Or­chard will pro­duce its first crop this sea­son.

Part of the Reid Fruits op­er­a­tion, the or­chard is the first in the south­ern hemi­sphere to use a unique un­der­cover green­house sys­tem for cher­ries.

There are about 37ha of cher­ries planted at the or­chard and about 4ha of that is cov­ered by the Cravo green­house.

Th­ese types of sys­tems have been used in the north­ern hemi­sphere, par­tic­u­larly in Canada, for more than two decades.

Fully au­to­mated, the green­house has re­tractable walls and roof. This al­lows for the cli­mate in the green­house to be con­trolled at dif­fer­ent times of the year de­pend­ing on the stage of the crop.

The whole roof can be closed in two and a half min­utes if rain is de­tected.

Or­chard pro­duc­tion man­ager An­drew Hall said the main rea­son the company chose Jeri­cho as the site for its new or­chard was to re­duce risk and to ex­tend the grow­ing sea­son.

“Part of the rea­son we chose this site is be­cause of the higher el­e­va­tion,” he said.

“Be­cause it’s higher, we get cooler nights here and a colder win­ter, so the fruit will come on here after pick­ing has al­most fin­ished at our other or­chards.

“There will be a lit­tle bit of cross over, but not much.”

The site sits at about 420m above sea level and does re­ceive snow­falls dur­ing win­ter.

Be­cause of the el­e­va­tion, Mr Hall said they would be pick­ing fruit at Jeri­cho be­tween 10 and 14 days later than at the company’s other or­chards.

The first crop will be picked on the site in late Jan­uary and early Fe­bru­ary next year.

Mr Hall said har­vest­ing the crop at that time was ideal for the Chi­nese New Year mar­ket, when pre­mium-qual­ity fresh cher­ries were highly sought after.

So far Mr Hall said the health of the cherry trees in the green­house had ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions.

“They’re ac­tu­ally go­ing grow­ing re­ally well, bet­ter than we ex­pected,” he said.

There are two main va­ri­eties be­ing grown a the Honey­wood or­chard and Mr Hall said the amount of fruit set on the trees in the green­house this year was a lot higher than in the trees out­side.

He at­tributes some of that ad­van­tage to the more con­trolled con­di­tions in­side, as well as the fact that bees are hap­pier to work when they are in the warmer and drier con­di­tions the green­house of­fers.

Be­cause of this Mr Hall is ex­pect­ing higher pro­duc­tion lev­els in­side the green­house.

A change in the prun­ing to a steep leader sys­tem across the or­chard has also re­duced the fruit-pro­duc­tion lead time.

Nor­mally Mr Hall said it took about four years before a crop could be har­vested off new cherry trees.

After be­ing planted just two years ago, the first crop will be har­vested off the new trees at Honey­wood in a couple of months.

Once the trees in the green­house reach full pro­duc­tion, Mr Hall said they would yield about 60 tonnes of cher­ries.

Across the whole or­chard, pro­duc­tion should reach about 500 tonnes in an­other two years.

“Re­ally, the green­house is a bit of an in­sur­ance pol­icy,” he said.

“If we have a bit of a dis­as­ter with the out­side crop, at least we know we’ll get a good crop in the green­house.”

The team at Honey­wood are also con­duct­ing tri­als of six other grow­ing sys­tems, in­clud­ing some that are trel­lised.

Mr Hall said the aim was to find which sys­tem was go­ing to be the most pro­duc­tive and ef­fi­cient at har­vest time.

They are also tri­alling a new or­ganic fungi­cide con­trol at the or­chard, which

Re­ally, the green­house is a bit of an in­sur­ance pol­icy . . . if we have a dis­as­ter out­side we’ll get a good crop in the green­house AN­DREW HALL

is de­liv­ered di­rectly to the flow­ers by the bees.

Mr Hall said the aim was to cut down on the need for spray­ing.

Wa­ter for the or­chard is sup­plied from South­ern Mid­lands Ir­ri­ga­tion Scheme.

In the green­house the trees are also fer­tilised through the ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem.

Be­cause it is the first of its kind to be used on cher­ries in Aus­tralia, Mr Hall said the cov­ered sys­tem had cre­ated a sig­nif­i­cant amount of in­ter­est.

“Pro­tected crop­ping has re­ally taken off last few years and we’ve had a lot of peo­ple come and have a look through,” Mr Hall said.

“The whole aim of it though is so that we can product re­ally pre­mium qual­ity fruit we can sell into the mar­ket at a time when there’s re­ally strong de­mand and they want that type of fruit.”

After a bumper sea­son across the Reid op­er­a­tion last year, Mr Hall said they were look­ing for­ward to a more av­er­age crop this sea­son of around 1200 tonnes.

Big­ger is bet­ter when it comes to fruit for the Asian mar­ket, so ide­ally the cher­ries need to be 28mm or more.

Fruit picked at Honey­wood Or­chard will be graded and packed at the Reid fa­cil­ity at Huonville.

Pic­tures: ALASTAIR BETT

SMART SET-UP: From top: the Honey­wood shel­ter sys­tem is fully au­to­mated; the or­chard is grow­ing 4ha of cher­ries un­der cover; har­vest is later than in other ar­eas due to cool cli­mate; the re­tractable roof sys­tem.

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