Netted orchards bring mixed blessings for citrus

Netted orchards bring mixed blessings for citrus


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Is netting a citrus orchard worth it? Two growers gave their views at the 2017 Citrus Technical Forum.

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REALITY CHECK: Leeton citrus grower, Dean Morris, says although netting has reduced orchard wind speed, insect pressures have increased inside the netting.

REALITY CHECK: Leeton citrus grower, Dean Morris, says although netting has reduced orchard wind speed, insect pressures have increased inside the netting.

NETTING may seem like it'll solve a lot of problems for citrus orchards but there are plenty of other challenges that arise.

Attendees at this year's Citrus Technical Forum heard from two growers who both outlaid the pros and cons of covered production.

Ryan Arnold, Pyap Produce, Loxton, South Australia said the decision to net a section of trees came with the aim of reaching the premium mandarin market.

His structure is built on 6m steel poles, designed for extra height for easier pruning and management.  

He said it was about growing more profitable fruit and that wind blemish was a major factor contributing to downgrading.

His pack-outs had dropped to as low as 15 per cent for class-one fruit in the standard orchard production format.

"We were just burning our money I suppose, producing citrus," he said.

OVERHEAD: Some of the structure covering Ryan Arnold's Loxton citrus orchard.

OVERHEAD: Some of the structure covering Ryan Arnold's Loxton citrus orchard.

"We already grow a really good product; we're in a really good climate to grow Navels in particular and Afourers," he said.

"I really wanted to cut that wind damage down so I probably went to a lot lighter net than a lot of people in terms of it's a wider weave, so I still get my wind break effect but not shading too much."

Some of the major advantages included the expected reduction in wind blemish but also an increase in water use efficiency.

Delite mandarin producer, Dean Morris, Leeton, NSW also gave an insight on using netting.  

He said that, like Mr Arnold, his orchard was on an exposed side of a hill which meant a low pack-out rate and a need to reduce orchard wind speed.

Mr Morris also noted the lift in water efficiency.

"We're saving at least a meg (megalitre) and a half per hectare to get the same crop yield," he said.

Mr Morris said the covered trees also tended to produce larger fruit.

He tempered the benefits with his battles against increased insect pressure inside the netting and ensuring suitable fruit colouring prior to harvest.

The first year of netted production saw the business's pack-out rate rocket to 90pc for class-one Afourer mandarins, but year two came with the reality shock of hungry insect numbers sending that pack-out figure down to 28pc.

They were lessons Mr Morris was willing to pass on.

"Your pest monitoring for scouts has got to be spot-on in that spring period. You've got to be there every week checking because it can go from 2pc pressure to 20pc pressure in 10 days," he said.

"The insect pressure seems to come on three or four weeks earlier inside the netting than outside."

The farm utilises beneficial insects to help counteract the nasties.

NET GAINS: Riverland citrus grower, Ryan Arnold, says he's been able to achieve higher class-one pack-out rates from his netted citrus orchard.

NET GAINS: Riverland citrus grower, Ryan Arnold, says he's been able to achieve higher class-one pack-out rates from his netted citrus orchard.

Mr Morris also extolled the virtues of heavy pruning.

"If you let the trees get out of control under a net, you're asking for massive trouble. You've got to keep them low, you've got to keep them well pruned," he said.

"We found that trees that got to 5m were producing no more than trees that got to 3m high."

"It's not about the netting; it's all about how you prune your trees."

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