May 1, 2018
New Zealand tweaks approaches, spurs growth

New Zealand growers and industry representatives showcased the country’s tree fruit production amenities during the International Fruit Tree Association’s 2018 Study Tour and Conference in February.

Tour participants witnessed early apple harvests in the Hawke’s Bay, Timaru and Nelson regions. Visited on the South and North Islands were a mix of orchard operations that exemplify the New Zealand industry in terms of operation size, management practices, adoption of technology, tree age and variety mix.

Presentations focused on production efficiencies, orchard systems, varieties and available technologies including platforms, harvest assist, record-keeping systems and cropload mapping.

Attendees largely avoided the direct impact of a visit by cyclone Gita, which did cause widespread damage, particularly in coastal areas – including to some impacted orchard operations.

In addition to orchards, IFTA toured Waimea Nursery and NZ Plant and Food Research, where there were updates by Prevar, an apple and pear breeder, and station scientists. The “future orchard” plots at both the station and at a commercial orchard were on display.

A second IFTA tour group joined the initial delegation for the organization’s one-day annual meeting in Napier, before pursuing the remainder of its 12-day visit to the orchards and vistas of the country located at 12 flight hours from the West Coast of the United States.

Some of the tour stops included the following:

M A Orchards

Red Martin, M A Orchards orchard manager

Red Martin and Andy McGrath (McGrath Nurseries) of M A Orchards in Timaru shared their Honeycrisp production methods. Established in 2012, the trees are planted on orchards of 76 hectares. There are five orchards over a 10-kilometer area. One block is in organic transition The Honeycrisp are grown primarily on G.202 rootstock with some M.9. Orchards are planted in tall spindle and V training systems.

McGrath said M A Orchards is among a host of operations in a new fruit growing region in Timaru and “Honeycrisp is going to be a variety that drives this into a major district.”

When Honeycrisp was imported in 1996 to New Zealand, it was among a few varieties tested, but it was discarded, McGrath said. That led to a program to license Honeycrisp in the country.

Honeycrisp is a managed variety in New Zealand in order to ensure high quality. It involved a process to determine where in the North and South Islands the variety would succeed.

The Timaru area at 43.2° latitude has been the best for Honeycrisp sites, McGrath said.

McGrath worked with Washington state grower Bruce Allen to determine if Honeycrisp could work in New Zealand with year-round production and availability of the variety.

M A Orchards produces about 550,000 cartons of Honeycrisp.

McGrath said the company’s packing strategy is to “get rid of the junk” before shipping. Its storage approach is similar to Chile. New Zealand apple fruit has to travel in containers for six weeks since their primary market is for export.

Orchard Manager Red Martin said bitter pit has not posed a problem. European canker does offer challenges.

M A Orchards grows 12-foot trees on a 4-by-12-foot vertical system on M.9. Honeycrisp is on G.202 rootstock (M.26 vigor, precocious and woolly aphid resistant).

The operation is seeking to get row spacing closer to help grow vertical fruiting walls.

The target is about 80 bins per acre. Martin said that on G.202, the yield is at about 60 bins an acre.

According to McGrath, currently, new Zealand produces about 20 million bushels of apples with about 16 of that being exported. Small growers average operating around 60 hectares.

Birdhurst Orchards

Evan Heywood

Host Evan Heywood of Golden Bay Fruit explained how Birdhurst Orchards is an intergenerational orchard and packing business and a production partner of Golden Bay Fruit. The Birdhurst family has lived and farmed land in Motueka for three generations.

Brothers Kerry and Farran Wilkins established Birdhurst, managing the transition of 15 acres of tobacco and 48 head of cattle, to a thriving apple orchard and kiwifruit business.

Birdhurst has 500 acres of intensive dwarf apple orchards, averaging 1,200 trees per acre. They also have 60 hectares of Zespri Bold kiwifruit orchards.

Palmer Orchards

Ian Palmer

Ian Palmer is another ex-tobacco and kiwifruit farmer now focusing on apple production. Tour attendees viewed one of Nelson, New Zealand’s best-producing Envy apple orchards (yield and color). Palmer is past chairman of the national growers’ association Pipfruit New Zealand.

Wairepo Orchards

Simon Easton

Simon and Matthew Easton of Wairepo Orchards said apples have been grown in Wairepo since the early 1990s. The orchard operation now includes six orchards in the Mariri coastal area and surrounding Moutere Valley areas.

Apple variety mix includes Cox’s Orange, Fuji, Braeburn, Royal Gala, Jazz, Pink Lady, Southern Rose, Envy and Koru. The tour stop focused on the operation’s CG and M.9 rootstock comparisons.

Vailima Orchards

Richard Hoddy

Vailima Orchards third-generation orchardists Richard and Susan Hoddy have three properties stretching across the Waimea Plains. Vailima has been a significant local leader in adopting new apple varieties and technology with their ability to execute some impressive detail that makes them a leader in the New Zealand industry.

With the single purpose of producing a consistent premium quality to meet the demands of an offshore market, Vailima Orchards also has extensive variety and rootstock evaluation programs. All-season use of platforms and multi-row sprayers has been a business practice for many years.

Waimea Nurseries

Host Bruno Simpson explained how Waimea Nurseries is a leading supplier of trees to New Zealand’s commercial growers of apples, pipfruit, stonefruit, citrus, hops, kiwifruit, feijoas and olives.

Established in 1971 by Doug and Georgi Simpson, it is now owned by Georgi’s son, Michael and Angela Donaldson. The tradition is continuing into the fourth generation with their children now involved in the business.

Hoddy Fruit Co.

Andrew Kininmonth with orchard supervisor Canaan Balck

Andrew Kininmonth hosted the tour of the fourth-generation apple growers in the Nelson region, with Walter Hoddy planting his family’s first apple tree in 1915. Since then, each generation has carried on the tradition of growing premium quality apples.

Management of the orchard is now shared by Michael Hoddy and his son-in-law Andrew Kininmonth. A combination of youth and experience ensures the business legacy for generations to come. Hoddy Orchard is a founding partner in Energie Fruit Co.

The tour stop focused on a comparison of 2-D and 3-D tree architectures and how the operation is developing young growers.

NZ Plant and Food Research – Havelock North

The New Zealand Plant and Food Research center showcased Future Orchard Production Systems (FOPS), a tree wall fruiting approach touted by Stuart Tustin, the center’s group leader, fruit crops physiology.

The center features 60 staff, modern purpose-built laboratory facilities and 60 hectare of research orchards. Areas of research include: breeding science, bio protection technologies, plant pathology and mycology, applied entomology, postharvest fresh foods, crop and fruit production systems, soil, water and environment focus and systems modeling.

See more stops from the IFTA New Zealand Study Tour: IFTA Study Tour highlights New Zealand growers

– Gary Pullano, FGN Managing Editor

Top photo: Aaron Cederman, Golden Bay Fruit orchard manager. All photos: Gary Pullano.


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