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Israeli technologies changing the face of Australian horticulture

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Thursday, March 17th, 2011

TWO Israeli companies are combining their technologies and expertise to change the face of horticultural production in Australia.

Specialist water soluble fertiliser supplier, Haifa, and irrigation equipment company, Netafim, are working with numerous distributors and growers across the country to introduce new methods of fertilising using their products.

They are particularly promoting the practice of applying dissolved fertiliser through drip irrigation equipment, a technique they refer to as ‘Nutrigation’.

Nutrigation offers many benefits, including:

  • Nutrients can be applied “just in time’’, according to crop needs.
  • Applications can be targeted to crop root systems.
  • Only the required quantities of nutrients are applied, saving fertiliser wastage.
  • Uniform irrigation systems apply nutrients in a uniform manner, thereby increasing fertiliser use efficiency.

Nutrigation is a significant advancement on the spreading of granular fertilisers and spray applications of nutrients.

Spreading fertilisers does not provide the same uniformity, it also feeds weeds in the inter-rows and can lead to significant nutrient losses through leaching, runoff or volatilisation.

Granular applications also require a rainfall event to carry the fertiliser into root zones – and at the time they need it.

In contrast, advanced, computer-controlled irrigation systems deliver carefully managed, metered doses of nutrients and allow higher water use efficiencies.

They monitor both the flow of irrigation water and injection of fertiliser, supplying plants with not only the required elements, but also at the optimal ratios between them.

Importantly for growers and the horticultural industry, this is resulting in increased production, productivity and profitability, as well as improved environmental sustainability for the sector.

The benefits of Haifa’s and Netafim’s products and their joint working effort in the industry have been highlighted in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria recently.

Turnbull Bros Orchards Pty Ltd at Ardmona has invested in the use of Haifa’s high quality water soluble fertilisers through a specialist, automatically controlled Netafim drip irrigation system to target high fruit production and quality.

The Turnbull family is aiming for consistent 80-tonne per hectare yields and minimum 80 per cent class 1 pack-out, an enormous jump from current 55t/ha yields and 60pc pack-out with their Cripps Pink and Rosy Glow apples.

Brothers Alex, Philip and Chris are the fifth generation on the 1892-established orchard, taking over from parents Ross and Daphne.

They grow apples, pears, peaches, cherries and nectarines, with 130ha of the 220ha property currently under orchard production, excluding young trees.

While the Turnbulls are not yet saving money on fertilisers per hectare through their new Nutrigation system, they recognise they are getting much better use out of the fertiliser applied.

“We are using much more of the fertiliser that we are paying for. With broadcasting you know you are losing a significant amount,’’ Alex said.

“We are now pulse irrigating so often – every four hours while it is hot – and so we are able to spread the fertiliser application out over a series of waterings. And we are putting it right where we need it around the root zone.

“We are applying 25-35 kilograms of fertiliser a week spread over 10 applications of water. We are also watering at times when we are not Nutrigating.

“We hope to see with this efficient system that we will be able to reduce the amount of fertiliser we need to use. It is about applying less, more often – applying a little bit all the time to optimise fruit size and colour, but being careful not to over-invigorate the trees.’’

He said four new production blocks at the Ardmona orchard, comprising 15ha, were now being fed via the new drip irrigation system, while it also had been installed on two existing blocks.

“We are changing over to drip irrigation. We will go drip with any new plantings and wherever we have the ability to do it.’’

“We like the low output drip line in terms of getting water use efficiencies. We use a pulse irrigation method to reduce soil compaction, improve capillary wetting and to achieve a continued supply of water to the tree – less water, more often.’’

The Netafim system is achieving significant water savings.

“We estimate that we are saving 45-50 per cent of our usual water application with the new system on the four new blocks. And together with the use of straw mulch, we are saving about 70pc.’’

“We would normally be watering for 46 hours a week, whereas with the new system we are doing 14 hours a week.’’

He said the automation unit had improved irrigation management.

“There is less involved in terms of management by an irrigator. Instead of paying someone to turn taps on and off and switch channels, they are spending more time on crucial things.’’

“The system waters from Saturday through to Friday night with low rates and the irrigator puts the whole schedule in on the Friday afternoon and he only needs to check that it is turned on and the fertiliser is going in.

“We check the filters every two weeks and we flush the system four times a year.’’

With young trees on the four new production blocks established last winter, the Turnbulls are targeting 1 metre of vertical growth over the growing season.

“Consultants were saying that the 1m aim was too large, however we have passed 85 centimetres of growth on overage for the year already,’’ Alex said.

Tree density on the new blocks also has been increased, equating to 3000 trees/ha.

Alex said this was still too low and by spacing trees 1.2m apart on 4m row spacings in future, he could increase this to 4160 trees/ha.