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
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.
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.