The International Fruit Tree Association 2018 summer tour and conference kicked off with a welcome dinner at a restored theater in New Zealand, with the first orchard tours the following day in Timaru on the country’s south island.
Signs of the 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people remain in the city of Christchurch, with building and road construction in every corner.
However, the stage of the fully restored Isaac Theatre Royal, also damaged in the earthquake, served as the site for the opening dinner.
The next morning, the roughly 100 growers boarded two tour buses for the city of Timaru, about two hours south of Christchurch in a long, narrow plain known for agriculture and, more specifically, becoming known for growing Honeycrisp apples.
Nursery owner Andrew McGrath, co-owner of M A Orchards with Washington state grower Bruce Allen, offered up tours of two Honeycrisp orchards with orchard manager Red Martin.
The first, planted in 2012 to a vertical axis in a 3.6-by-1.2-meter spacing, features largely Geneva 202 rootstocks, but also some Malling 9. Hail netting has been installed over the 6-meter tall trees.
Martin moved to Timaru from Nelson, farther north on New Zealand’s south island, four years ago. In terms of tree growth, Nelson can at times get too hot, he said, whereas “here, we get some impressive tree growth and fruit quality overall.” Of the M.9 planting, Martin said he anticipated yields of 60 to 80 tonnes per hectare.
The second stop featured a V trellis, also Honeycrisp, planted in 2014, with a tree density of 2,900 trees per hectare, compared with 1,850 at the first stop. Most trees were planted on Geneva 202, with some M. 26 and M. 9, and were far shorter than the first stop at 2.7 meters.
Martin said the goal is for 30,000 linear meters of fruiting wood per hectare along the trellis’ five wires on each side, with a target yield of 80 tonnes per hectare. After harvest, the six to eight weeks of growing season for buds to recover offer a “long season” and a good return crop.
The IFTA participants are taking a day of side trips on Sunday, as they travel to Nelson to resume orchard tours on Monday.