A new block of apples at Moteo is the way of the future, according to its developers.
The 47ha leased block being developed by T and G is planted to be two-dimensional rather than the usual three.
This is done by training growth along wires so the fruit is easily visible and easily picked. It also simplifies thinning and pruning.
T and G national growing manager Lachlan McKay says the Moteo block is the biggest 2D planting in New Zealand. He was reluctant to give an exact cost for the development. It was clearly not cheap.
The system is common in the pipfruit growing areas of Washington State and in Northern Italy but is relatively new to New Zealand. There are some in the Nelson area and any future planting by T and G will be done this way.
"There wasn't the money in the industry for this sort of development until recently," McKay said.
He and Moteo block manager Kevin Sykes say the orchard is planted for the future, a future where people on drivable picking platforms without ladders or heavy picking bags harvest the crop, where crop load and ripeness are assessed by camera and maybe even where the crop is picked by a robot and where that picking platform can be quickly modified to carry staff for thinning or harvesting.
T and G has three picking platforms on order from Italy. They are expected in July, in time for the next pruning and thinning seasons. There could come a time where ladders and picking bags are a thing of the past.
"We think of it as future-proofing."
Robot pickers are in the early stages of development and T and G's parent company BayWa is a shareholder in a company working on improving the technology.
"It's still some way off."
The block is alongside the Tutaekuri River and is sheltered from the south by a range of hills. For this reason it has been planted in Jugala, an early variety of Royal Gala, Envy and Jazz.
The 113,000 trees at 2380/ha are all planted on M9 dwarf rootstock.
The watchword for the development is sustainability. The block is entirely off the grid because it was too costly to get power in there. There are solar panels on the roofs of the sheds which will power the controls for the irrigation pumps. The irrigators will be powered by a diesel generator.
McKay says Moteo will be a good place for anyone starting out in horticulture.
"Trainees will learn the latest technology rather than methods that are already out of date."
The new plantings are expected to produce a commercial crop next year, a year ahead of schedule. Keeping the trees in two dimensions means Kevin Sykes and 15 people are busy two or three times a year as the growth of the new trees is more vigorous than expected.
When it is in full production the development will mean 10 fulltime jobs.
"We see it as a vote of confidence in the future of the pipfruit industry," McKay said.¦