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Automated fertigation system proves its worth

Automated fertigation system proves its worth

Automated fertigation system proves its worth

The installation of a fully automated irrigation and fertigation system on a 72-canopy hectare cherry development near Clyde, in Central Otago, has proved its worth with the evenness of the young trees’ establishment.

Owned by My Farm Investments, the Central Cherry Orchard is a partnership with fresh produce marketing and distribution company Freshmax. The 11 cherry varieties were selected to allow harvest from mid-December to early February with the first harvest on track for the summer of 2022-23 following the installation of a permanent netting structure. The orchard will be in full production by the 2025-26 season. Planted in two development stages during 2019 and 2020, trees are grown in a Spanish bush style so that most work can be done from the ground and the remainder of tree work done higher in the canopy using a small stepladder or platform. The idea is to make tree management and harvest easier, keeping labour costs down.

The introduction of the fertigation system has been described by Nigel Hope, Freshmax South Island Operations Manager as a real asset to the operation.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth and leaf quality from the fertigation programme,” Nigel says. “You can apply as little or as often as you like, and you can also concentrate on areas that may have issues and need special treatment. It’s set to work in conjunction with irrigation and it’s split into block sections for ease of management.”

This past season the fertigation programme has delivered fortnightly applications over a four-month period starting in October. Mark Cosgriff from Fruitfed Supplies, and David Spencer from Yara Crop Nutrition created the fertigation programme which incorporates a balanced nutrient supply of YaraTera Calcinit and Kristalon water-soluble products delivered through an irrigation/fertigation system designed by Development Manager, Nick Common.

David explains: “Our key focus in the first couple of seasons is to establish the trees with strong trunk and branch structures. Initial spring growth is largely determined by reserves stored in the tree from the previous autumn. We begin the fertigation programme in October when root activity is optimal which then maximises balanced tree growth through until the end of January or early February. It is important to allow sufficient time for the young trees’ growth to harden off before going into the colder months.”

The YaraTera fertilisers are dissolved into 5,000 litre A and B tanks with the batches then transferred to 25,000 litre holding tanks ready for direct injection into the irrigation lines. David emphasises the importance of delivering the correct ratio of nutrients at the right times to meet both tree growth and fruit demand. The YaraVita range of foliar products have also been applied during the season to maintain leaf health. As the cherry blocks comes into fruit production, a more intensive foliar nutrient programme will be implemented to maximise fruit size and quality.

“The YaraTera Kristalon range is based on more than 40 years of manufacturing experience, agronomic research, and grower results, and sold in over 95 countries,” David says. “With six key grades sold in New Zealand, a fertigation programme can be customised for any tree or vine crop to effectively utilise the different nutrient ratios required for the time of season. Standard practice in tree crops is to focus on high phosphorus early season, a balanced nitrogen to potassium ratio mid-season, and then a higher potassium input for late season.”

Mark Cosgriff adds: “With several new orchard developments happening through Central Otago on our lighter soil types, I have seen the efficiency and environmental benefits of utilising the little and often practice of fertigation as the mainstay of an orchard’s nutrition programme.”

Central Cherry Orchard’s Site Manager Murray Miller agrees that the use of fertigation has produced even growth throughout the block and its use is much more precise than using only solid fertiliser. Murray also adds that the quality and ease of solubility of the YaraTera range are important factors in selecting these products for their orchard programme.

More information about fertigation options for orchards and vineyards is available from your local Fruitfed Supplies Technical Horticultural Representative.