Regular pruning improves quality and prices
High quality fruit and good tonnes per hectare are as important as each other when seeking to improve profitability, according to Mildura Fruit Company (MFC) Grower Services Rep, Justin Lane.
Justin provided advice to delegates on improving pack-outs and pricing at the Citrus Technical Forum & Field Day held in Mildura.
Justin said aiming to set a navel crop of 45-50t/ha with fruit that fall in the right size range for the KCT program is the 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,” he said.
“When developing an orchard, growers should consider wind-breaks, spacing and patch layout because it certainly pays dividends.”
Justin said pruning was important and that aiming to prune every tree every year had its rewards. Once an orchard is in a routine of pruning the amount of pruning required per tree actually falls, becoming a maintenance prune he said.
MFC run and pack about 180,000 bins (or the equivalent of 75,000 tonnes) of fruit per year and have capacity to grow their packed volume. They receive fruit from 120 growers with orchards of varying size, supplying anywhere from 10-15 bins, up to 15,000 bins each.
Justin said it was important to note that the KCT (Korea, China, Thailand) 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).
Justin gave an example of a grower that achieved close to $1000/t gross return, his average first grade pack out was 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% first grade pack out and 62% KCT destined fruit. In comparison better growers with late navels not eligible for KCT achieved 44% less per tonne.
“In our experience higher pricing orchards had high first grade pack outs due to regular pruning and the use of wind breaks.
“Those with lower prices had excessive scale and wind blemish on their fruit.”
Justin also noted that factory prices for navels in their area at the moment are lower than picking and freight costs.
“Small fruit does not pay the bills.
“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.”