Changes to Soil and Water and Climate

Posted By HBFA | February 26, 2024

Changes to Soil and Water and Climate

There have been a few field walks, meetings and presentations in the past month, which have not directly targeted stonefruit growers and are general enough to be worthy of comment.

Summerfruit is not the easiest of crops to grow. There is some susceptibility to wet feet and silt covering, adequate levels of winter chill could be getting closer to the necessary thresholds, and sufficient water to irrigate crops is being challenged.

Making good, longer-term decisions will affect the next generation’s ability to grow fruit and vegetables. It may well have an impact on the present generation’s ability to make a profit. The past season is a fantastic illustration. While there was adequate chill and a relatively benign growing season, balance sheets have still been challenged.

James Palmer, the relatively new Secretary for the Environment, presented to the local Future Farming Trust. He strongly suggests that climate driven change has arrived, and that technology driven fixes are already too late. Storms such as Cyclone Gabrielle will be more intense and are likely to be more frequent. Bola was in 1988 with the big one before that in 1938. There is good information coming from the Future Farming Trust. While this information is often from other crops and animal farming, we are all living and growing in the same environment.

Will there be sufficient chilling soon? It’s good enough at the moment and could be made to work with the aid of dormancy breakers/enhancers. But do we encourage the importing of more low chill varieties and start getting some experience of growing them commercially?

Plant & Food Research held a hosted a field day this week highlighting some work that they are doing in the recovery from silt space. They were looking at what crops work in silted ground in relation to seed size. Bigger seemed better, but what struck everyone was that the sites from where silt was removed performed worse than the areas that were left alone. For tree crops, would replanting with higher graft unions in flooding susceptible areas be worth considering? Particularly as it is cheaper to leave the silt where it is, if possible.

The all-of-horticulture plus agriculture meeting in Havelock North, hosted by HortNZ, shared information from HBRC staff, Regional Councilors and HortNZ’s response to date. There was a good and robust exchange between growers and HBRC staff highlighting the complexity of what is trying to be achieved. Again, a good understanding of this issue will influence what is planted in the future. The variation in individual circumstances is staggering.

What some of the answers might be is not my place to guess at. I can imagine dams on individual orchards as is seen in Central Otago, and irrigating low chill peaches via solar power generated from the shed roof that also powers the electric tractor. But as I said, these are only my guesses.

Richard Mills
Summerfruit Technical Advisor
021 632559

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