New research shows

Cuts to crops could help growers bounce back after drought

Cutting back fruit and almond trees during times of drought could be among the best long-term options for growers, researchers in the Murray-Darling Basin say.

Scientists from the South Australian Research and Development Institute have spent the past five years trying to turn the hardships of last decade's dry spell into benefits for irrigators.

They monitored more than 30 orchards across the Riverland and Sunraysia regions.

The Institute found trees that were cut back to cope with smaller quantities of water were more likely to stay productive and recover faster when full water allocations returned to normal.

The study also found that if citrus or almond trees are lost, it can take more than five years to replace them and restart production.

Researcher Mark Skewes says he hopes the findings will help keep growers in business during dry spells.

"We were really interested in how people could manage those plantings, keep them viable, hopefully keep production up through that period of reduced water allocations," he said.

"Although yield was probably reduced because you've got a smaller tree to start with, the fruit that was produced was good quality and they were able to continue production and get good returns."

Citrus Australia says about 10 per cent of growers exited the industry as a result of the drought.

Mr Skewes says the research will not only save future crops, but growers' livelihoods.

"Most people aren't interested in it right now. They don't need to know that information because we've got plenty of water so the idea really is we need to have that information readily available when we need it again," he said.

The research also examined whether better soils or a clay sunscreen could help the trees get by but found they were no substitutes for water.

Citrus grower Ken Mansell from Colignan in north-western Victoria took part in the study and says growers should make sure they are aware of its findings.

"Any research is good. I think in the future if there's another issue like this, it's good to have data we can draw on. Without data, if you don't record it how can you anything about it really?" he said.

"You've got to make some pretty tough decisions and decide which patches are going to stay productive and which ones are going to be turned off, dried off."

The study was carried out at the Loxton Research Centre and began in 2007.

The full findings will be released in December.


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