YEARLY tree pruning has been recommended as an ingredient for a profitable and healthy commercial citrus orchard.
Justin provided advice to delegates on improving pack-outs and pricing at the
Speaking at the Citrus Technical Forum and Field Day at Mildura earlier this month, Mildura Fruit Company (MFC) grower services representative, Justin Lane, said aiming to prune every tree every year had its rewards.
According to Mr Lane, once an orchard is in a routine of pruning, the amount of pruning required per tree actually falls, becoming a maintenance prune.
“In our experience higher pricing orchards had high first grade pack-outs due to regular pruning and the use of wind breaks," he said.
“Those with lower prices had excessive scale and wind blemish on their fruit.”
He also noted current factory prices for navels in the area were lower than picking and freight costs.
“Small fruit does not pay the bills," Mr Lane said.
“Higher pricing orchards all had high pack-outs due to wind breaks or netting and some type of pruning, either mechanical or manual.
"Lower pack-out was due to a lot of green and blemished fruit.”
He said high quality fruit and good tonnes per hectare were as important as each other when seeking to improve profitability.
Aiming to set a navel crop of 45 - 50 tonnes per hectare with fruit that fall in the right size range for the Korea, China and Thailand (KCT) program was the given recipe for success.
Similarly, consistently achieving an Afourer crop of 55 - 60t/ha is more profitable than getting in to a biannual cropping cycle by over-cropping the orchards.
“Wind blemish is generally the main reason fruit is downgraded to second or third grade,” Mr Lane said.
“When developing an orchard, growers should consider wind-breaks, spacing and patch layout because it certainly pays dividends.”
MFC runs and packs about 180,000 bins (or the equivalent of 75,000 tonnes) of fruit per year and have capacity to grow its packed volume.
The company receives fruit from 120 growers with orchards of varying size, supplying anywhere from 10 - 15 bins, up to 15,000 bins each.
Mr Lane said it was important to note the KCT market now prefer medium sizes, paying premium prices for counts 56s to 80s (72-87mm), C31 equivalent cartons (16kg).
Non-KCT pricing premiums are generally for 48s to 72s (74-90mm), C31 equivalent cartons (16kg).
He gave an example of a grower that achieved close to $1000/t gross return with his average first grade pack-out at 16.8 cartons per bin (of a possible 23.3 cartons per bin) which included 14.4 cartons per bin that were KCT fruit.
That equates to 72 per cent first grade pack-out and 62pc KCT destined fruit.
In comparison, better growers with late navels not eligible for KCT achieved 44pc less per tonne.