A Tribute to John Wilton

Posted By HBFA | May 13, 2021

Johnathan Brookes

The passing of John Wilton is huge loss for the AgFirst team and the orchard industry. I would like to tribute this article to John and include what I believe he would have been discussing this month.

In the last newsletter we discussed the removal of orchard blocks that have little, if any future in our new high labour cost industry. Orchard blocks are going to fall into three basic categories.

  1. The blocks that are not salvageable and basically need to be removed and replanted.
  2. The blocks that need replacing but are suitable for renewal through grafting.
  3. The blocks that have a medium to long term future

Replant blocks – For blocks that are being removed it is critical that you spend time planning to ensure you get the right results. – Pick a planting system that you believe will still be economically viable in 20 years. Decide on a planting density that optimises your site and your planting system, our OrchardNet production data base shows no real relationship supporting super high tree densities and relative gains in profitability.

Make sure the replacement area is properly prepared to get the best out of the new trees when they arrive, soil sterilisation, nutrition, drainage, ground preparation, irrigation design, tree support structure, consider the future climate and if there is justification for hail netting to be part of the planning, every one of these tasks can have a significant effect on ultimate block performance

Grafting blocks – For blocks that are suitable for grafting you need to consider – What style of graft you will do? how many grafts per trunk? do you need to leave branches to maintain sap flow to the tree? do you need to upgrade the support structure? grafting tape? or grafting paint? or both? when am I going to cut down the trees? and when am I going to start grafting?

Existing blocks – In the blocks you are leaving in the orchard focus on tasks now that should make potential labour improvements at harvest. Focus on reducing waste fruit, that will not make harvest quality, and target ways to make harvesting easier or more efficient. Start the year with an optimised block yield target, using history and industry benchmarking to fine tune your goals. Create effective pruning plans, built around optimised yield and vigour targets, optimise the light distribution throughout the trees – Prune to make the pickers happy, is the block platform ready?

John always said fruit growing is easy – “Just don’t make any mistakes”.

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