80 years of research in the Goulburn Valley (part 9)

With rising costs and growers finding it harder and harder to find skilled workers to do the job, to do it efficiently, and to do it correctly—we believed that mechanisation was a strategy to stay competitive.

Mechanisation (cont from last issue)
Harvesting
With rising costs and growers finding it harder and harder to find skilled workers to do the job, to do it efficiently, and to do it correctly—we believed that mechanisation was a strategy to stay competitive.
Therefore we needed to determine what modification was required to the structural features of the frame and canopy of the free-standing tree, to reduce damage to fruit that are mechanically harvested—so that we could develop research programs for ensuing years in the proper order of priority.
While the trees still needed to produce heavy yields, mechanical harvesters would be much more effective when the trees had been deliberately shaped to simplify mechanisation.
Transitioning towards planar and shallower canopies with uniform limb angles of 25 to 30 degrees from vertical, allows a large proportion of the fruit an unobstructed fall from the canopies onto a multi-level collecting device.
Summer hedging
Pruning during summer can be for tree training, for growth control, for better light exposure, to maintain a specific tree form, to stimulate flowering, to improve fruit quality and skin colour.
The aim was to implement a 2-dimentional canopy that is simple, continuous, narrow and accessible. Such a canopy would not only allow a mechanical cutter bar to prune the trees in summer, pruning and thinning can become systemised and simple.
Hedging was not meant to completely replace hand pruning. Hedging was going to be used to eliminate wood that is outside the predetermined area within which the canopy would be maintained.
Because summer hedging is not selective, it makes good and bad cuts. Hand pruning would still be needed during the dormant season to remove unwanted wood.
Breed new canning peach varieties
Many varieties of peaches grown in the GV and MV were not profitable mainly because the yields were low, compared with the best.
Golden Queen was for many years the main variety. It matured late (mid-March) and had fruit sizing difficulties.
The cannery could not process 70% of the intake in one month; harvests needed to be spread.
So we needed to breed early and late peach varieties with much superior qualities than the existing canning-peach varieties.
In the meantime, the station was continuing its search for better fruit varieties by breeding, selection and introduction; mainly for peaches, but also apricots, pears and apples.
For introduction, we imported the most promising of many new varieties being constantly produced overseas.
Grow cheap nursery trees
We developed methods which enabled us to control tree growth without needing rootstocks. This allowed us to:
•propagate any of our trees from cuttings
•decrease the cost of pruning
•further decrease the time to bring orchards into production.
A research program to develop a system for orchardists to produce their own peach and pear trees from hardwood and softwood cuttings was undertaken.
It was intended to substantially reduce the cost of trees, make the orchardist self-sufficient for planting material, and thereby make high-density systems more attractive and cost-effective.
A major cost of any intensive planting of fruit trees is the initial cost of trees. The cost of trees would be substantially reduced, if the orchardist grows their own trees.
Most or all the above results were to be embodied in the orchard of the future, none were present in the existing orchards.
Systems research (cont next issue)

See this article in Tree Fruit August 2019

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