‘Tis the Season for Learning

Posted By HBFA | August 19, 2023

Conferences, Seminars, Technical Meetings and Site Visits – ‘Tis the Season for Learning….


Back in the day as a working orchardist, I always enjoyed the technical seminars, what can we do this year to grow more, bigger, redder fruit. What might we do to have less deductions on the weighbridge at the cannery. Going to the more high-level conferences seemed like a step to far as its difficult to finish the pruning from a hotel room in Christchurch. Now I find myself organizing and running some seminars and enjoying those put on by others. As with many of these gatherings the conversations before and after the presentations are where much of the work is done, setting up meetings and discussions with people that we should be contacting during the normal course of the working week. All good, as this industry is so much about the people. There are a couple of themes that have been bounced around over the last year or two that have stuck with me.

As an industry with about 3000ha total across the country, scale and scaling up is an interesting concept. At this year’s Hort NZ conference Leaderbrand showed us their story from small beginnings to expanding into regions outside Gisborne and the venture into covered crops. The Dairy NZ presentation was eye opening for the extent of their customer management system, in this case on how they can react in times of weather challenges. The SNZ Board was treated to a tour of Mr Apple’s Whakatu site with the scale of Scales robotic operations highlighted, something that stone fruit packers can only dream of. So, if size is a good reaction to the current scenario how might we start down that road? At the orchard level that is beyond my remit, but from the product group level continuing the co-operation that we are seeing post-Gabrielle is a good place to start. From memory there are 20 product groups under the Hort NZ umbrella and a whole bunch, large and small, outside of its framework. We have a regional fruit growers association and vegetable growers association. As product groups we are all attempting to do the same sorts of jobs, often for the same growers and asking for the same information more than once. One thinks that some scale here might breed some efficiencies and let growers get back to pruning trees with owners getting back to imaginative business plans.

One of the other messages that has stuck went something like, run flat out towards the horizon (future of growing) and figure out how we get there along the way. Put another way, build the plane as we are flying it. For a cherry orchard that might look something like 100ha of a 2-D growing system, on dwarf rootstocks, fully netted against birds, rain covered, mechanically pruned in part, sprayed by an over-the-canopy rig that is autonomously driven by non-fossil fuels, picked off the ground by people or may be robots in an orchard that has a diverse ground cover sward. Farfetched, I don’t think so, as all those components can be seen now just not all together in one 2 ha block. A packhouse for a 100ha of cherries might be able to investigate new tech.

This might not be the future that I see in my working life, but it may well be for those talented people that put themselves forward for the young fruit growers competition. It was great to see a representative of the stonefruit part of the industry, and to see her do so well. Congratulations Danni Sammons on your second place. For someone relatively new to fruit growing this is a huge result. Maybe we can swap jobs in a couple of years, and you can help drive a combined food growing industry towards a new horizon while I mow the orchard and ponder life.

At the operational level we are now well under way for the new growing season with bud swell in many orchards, and full bloom in some of the early varieties. The new set of PHI charts are available on the Summerfruit portal and the waiting game is getting to the next stage with regards to tree health following a very wet 18 months. Keep walking around the orchards, take some records of what you see so that we are better informed for next time.


Richard Mills
Summerfruit Technical Advisor
021 632559

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