A range of informative videos are now available to assist growers to understand the benefits of high-density plantings and the opportunities available to de-risk the horticultural industry in cyclone prone areas of northern Australia.

The videos have been produced under a recently launched project being led by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and supported by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA).

CRCNA CEO Anne Stünzner said enabling producers to better manage risk and diversify was important to ensuring their long-term viability and economic prosperity.

“Similarly, de-risking investment decisions by demonstrating what is possible gives producers and investors greater confidence to look to the north when business planning,” she said.

Principal Horticulturist with the DAF Yan Diczbalis said current growing techniques had their disadvantages and high-density orchards were the key to driving sectorial growth.

“Traditionally horticultural trees have been grown at relatively low densities,” Mr Diczbalis said.

“The disadvantage to low-density planting is that you end up with fewer, very large trees so to get the production you need per hectare you have to let the tree grow.

“Trees then become inefficient to pick and present problems when it comes time to netting them to protect against birds and bats.”

Mr Diczbalis said new growing techniques were required and there were many benefits to high-density plantings.

“They are certainly more efficient to pick and pack because of the way the trees are managed,” he said.

“Their canopies are thinner and pesticide sprays can be more uniformly applied so fruit quality is often improved.

“As growers we also like to keep most of our picking staff low on the ground, not on ladders so there is less risk of accidents with smaller trees.

“The challenge is how do we maintain the productivity of high-density situations. We’re still learning how to do that, and this project is all about testing that system.”

North Queensland exotic tropical fruit grower Josh Maunder form Aus-Ex Fruit said low-density plantings take a lot of capital and investment to manage year-on-year.

“It’s definitely harder from a production perspective and to get your crop off,” Mr Maunder said.

“By comparison moving to high-density has a whole range of economic benefits to the grower in terms of diminished need for machinery, smaller machinery, less intense activity and with that comes a better return on production.”

Josh explained that the new high-density and trellised systems being investigated through the project are all about resilience and managing the crop from the outset.

“In the event of a cyclone, the tree may get battered around a little bit, but it stays in the ground and that’s how we can recover quickly,” he said.

“The project is a good opportunity to show growers, both current and potential, that there is a way to de-risk this industry and at the end of the day if I can facilitate investment from other growers or other research bodies into the industry, then that’s the goal achieved for me,” he said.

The Demonstrating Next-Generation Resilient Orchard Production Systems for Tropical Crops project is funded through the CRCNA as part of the Australian Government’s CRC Program, and being undertaken in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (NT DITT), Western Australia Department of Primary Industries and regional development (DPIRD), Manbulloo Limited, Aus-Ex Fruit, Northern Territory Farmers Association (NT Farmers) and Growcom.