Richard Mills, Summerfruit NZ Market Support
In harmony with being a bit of a weather tragic; it’s still dry but I guess the 35mm of rain last month is better than the 14mm of the previous month. Still, nowhere near enough but we will take it and hope for a whole lot more as we settle into winter. Now I’m getting a little more concerned with the amount of winter chilling that is not happening – Hawke’s Bay is flat lining as I write this. By contrast Marlborough is as good as it has been in the last five years and my Central Otago contacts tell me that they have plenty cold down there.
The implication of low levels or late winter chill for dormancy enhancing products (dormancy breakers) is that we need to delay applications to the later end of what would be the application window. If you are not a traditional user of these products and if you are a cherry or apricot grower, especially Sundrop apricots, then a chat with your rep might be well worth while. At least start thinking about options even if there is no need should chill units pick up later in winter.
I have had the privilege of attending a few seminars recently, Young Fruit Grower competitions and a conference in the last couple of months. The first of these was the Regenerative Agriculture Hui in Wellington, which Jen Scoular of NZ Avocado reported on in the May Orchardist. This theme has come back to me several times over the period. At this stage most of the presentations, including that of Brent Clothier at the Summerfruit conference have been at a pretty ‘high level’; more about defining what Regenerative Agriculture might be- rather than what it is. What I have taken out of these presentations is that we have the opportunity to develop what works for New Zealand without being beaten into the US concept of what is needed and without what seems to be a generalised pathway, as is being defined by Greenpeace New Zealand. For me, it seems like an opportunity to think about what our orchards might look like in 50 or 100 years. Put another way, if my grandchildren were to be orcharding what are the improvements I could be thinking of now, so that growing stonefruit is profitable and sustainable and in a continuingly improving soil, water and arboreal environment.
To achieve this the idea that makes most sense to me is to act at a ‘catchment level’. This is illustrated by a farming mate who told me how the farmers in his valley are measuring baseline data on water and nutrient inputs and outputs, and jointly paying someone to do the work. Another excellent example of catchment level progress is the Twyford Water Users group. Both of these examples counter Plan Change 6 that was imposed on the Tukituki River users and has been problematic. Catchment level does not necessarily mean just issues that relate to water, but could refer to similar soil types, or air sheds or crop types. Is there a place for grower organisations such as Horticulture NZ and Summerfruit NZ to gather data and act as the catchment on wider issues?
Is intensification an answer for horticulture? If we were to increase the production levels on a per hectare basis, but retain the same yield per orchard, could the remaining land be retired or planted in carbon credit trees or used for water storage or green corridors or whatever seems appropriate to your catchments needs? Let’s contrast this with the call to de-intensify the dairy industry, or the continuing desire from Government to focus on more and more exports.
Both of the Young Fruit Grower Competitions that I attended were fantastic events and reflective of the locations that they are based in. The Hawke’s Bay event at Toitoi was very slick and good fun, the Cromwell event whilst run on a smaller budget, was equally enjoyable. Congratulations to all of those who stepped up and gave it a go, the industry is proud of you.