Avocado growers are benefiting from a fairly new style of netting that protects their orchards from the harsh weather elements.
The Netpro Group recently constructed protective netting at an orchard in Katikati, near the Kaimai range, as the area can experience strong winds, especially westerly winds during the spring pollination period.
The company has covering avocados for several years, and have 5-6 customers in Australia and New Zealand. Founding Director Claude Grayling says it not only helps with the wind and frost, but reduces the need for the individual tree shelters, that can become expensive.
"It is more to create that microclimate; to even out the temperatures and make it warmer during the flowering period," he said. "Sometimes with avocados they can be biannual, and with reducing the wind, you are creating that microclimate and the avocado performs well between that net."
The canopy at the Katikati orchard stands at seven metres tall and cloth used is called a "16mm Quad", and Mr Grayling says it was chosen because the holes were small enough to control hail, while providing a wind break.
"It is cloth that we use for the kiwifruit industry in New Zealand as well," he said. "We use it for apples and citrus in Australia as well. The (Katikati) canopy is quite tall, and has windbreak cloth all around it. In Australia, we have used a cloth with a bit of shade to take the harshness off due to the intense sun. The main thing is we can manipulate that by adding a black into the cloth to give it a bit more shade, especially when the new tip grows and when they get more mature and grow close to the canopy itself."
Netpro says the opportunities for the protective netting are endless and have worked with a range of produce lines, including table grapes, citrus, lychees, stone fruit, persimmons and apples. Mr Grayling adds that with a full canopy, there is also a water transpiration saving of around 30-35 per cent.
"As soon as they plant new trees, they are picking a lot earlier," Mr Grayling said. "You are getting better growth, with the avocado tree not getting knocked around as much, because of the wind. It's very new, even for New Zealand. John, the grower at Katikati, took the attitude of covering it, but didn't want to have the added cost of putting the tree surrounds in; putting the stakes in, the shade cloth all around and frost cloth protection on top to get the avocado trees up and running. He wanted to save money doing that, but have the full protection."
Fellow grower, and Avocado Manager at Trevelyan’s, Daniel Birnie also visited the Katikati site, and says it's exciting to see that growers are trying new ideas.
"We were fortunate enough to visit the orchard with Wayne Russell of Netpro Bay of Plenty, who built the structure," he said. "Wind is something all growers in NZ experience, and well sheltered blocks generally have better packouts, and orchards are established much quicker."
He adds another grower is developing a block under netting in the Belk road area, which will go ahead this spring.
"Advantages of netting include less wind, warmer spring temperatures, better packouts, and a requirement to prune," Mr Birnie said. "Disadvantages include the cost of establishment, the requirement to prune - I have this as both a positive and a negative - and overall I guess it’s a bit of a trip into the unknown."
Mr Birnie adds production this year at Trevelyan's was up on the previous years, and next year will step up again, with the company looking at packing around 700,000 export and local trays in the 2019/20 season.