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Ongoing project

Improved Australian apple and pear orchard soil health and plant nutrition (AP19006)

Key research provider: University of Tasmania

What's it all about?

This investment is developing the knowledge needed on soil health and plant nutrition to maximise quality and yield in apple and pear orchards. This research will provide the tools for growers to create orchards that use resources efficiently and sustainably, particularly under an increasingly variable climate.

A user-friendly web app will ultimately be developed by the project team as a decision support tool, providing growers and consultants with practical, easy to use irrigation and nutrient management tools and resources that can be accessed in the field. The app will be driven by the ‘SINATA’ model, which is the Strategic Irrigation and Nitrogen Assessment Tool for Apples developed through earlier levy-funded research Improved tree and fruit nutrition for the Australian apple industry (AP14023).

The project team will also set up replicated research trials in each of the five main growing regions for apples and pears to closely examine sustainable orchard management practices to improve soil health, biological function, plant nutrition and reduce pest/disease incursions. These trial sites will also be used as demonstration sites for field walks in conjunction with the levy-funded Future Orchards extension program, to help growers’ access and adopt research findings.

Together these trials will develop a detailed understanding of the biological, physical and chemical indicators that best describe soil health in apple and pear orchards.

This project is part of the PIPS3 program for the apple and pear industry (the third iteration of the Productivity, Irrigation, Pests and Soils program). The other investments that make up this scope of work are:

The work done through this project, and the PIPS3 program, will be communicated to industry extensively through the levy-funded National apple and pear industry communications program (AP18000) and Future Orchards program Delivery of apple and pear Future Orchards extension program (AP15005). You can sign up to receive industry communications at  

In this reporting period, an update on soil physical and microbiological assessments was presented from the main research site in Tasmania. Early results and learnings from the literature review were used to provide an overview of soil health indicators for determining the health of an apple growing soil.

A series of articles were published online:

YouTube videos were created to report on extension activities:

Update on fruit quality and yield analysis from the main research site in Tasmania

Trees in the established ‘Jazz’ block were harvested at normal commercial fruit maturity in early April; fruit numbers were counted prior to harvest on two tagged trees in the centre of each trial plot (90 trees in total) and a sample of 40 fruit collected from the eastern side of these trees. Fruit quality and yield analysis were carried out.

PhD student Phillip Kay is undertaking the soil microbial studies listed below on the intensive trial site. Soil samples were collected in February/March but data is not yet available.

Dr Steve Quarrell is undertaking arthropod assessments at the intensive trial site. Earwig traps, sticky cards and Delta (pheromone) traps for codling moth and Light Brown Apple Moth have been set up in the trees. Pitfall traps have been installed in both the tree-line and inter-row. Traps are monitored for one week every month

Harvesting and fruit quality assessments have now been completed at the SA regional demonstration site. Fruit numbers were counted prior to harvest and a sample of 20 fruit was taken from five trees in each treatment for fruit quality assessments. Assessments included background colour, starch pattern index (SPI), flesh firmness and total soluble solids (TSS).

The NSW and WA regional sites have been harvested and fruit samples collected with fruit quality assessments.

Since the team’s last update, a literature review on the impact of orchard floor management practices on soil health, tree growth, yield and fruit quality was completed.

It provided evidence towards the adoption of practices that promote a natural system to increase biodiversity, provide natural pest control and build soil health.

It also highlighted that a common misconception that sustainable agriculture means a return to old farming methods needs to be addressed, with terms such as ‘biological’ or ‘regenerative’ bringing the emphasis back to the important aspects farmers need to look to in the future.

Regenerative farming works with natural systems and processes to build optimum soil and plant health, while also incorporating the best of conventional farming methods to maintain production levels and quality.


Read more about the project team’s activities in these articles:

Despite some initial delays due to weather and COVID restrictions, project activities are well underway with progress in the following areas:

  • The intensive research trial sites and regional sites are now established, with harvest set for the 2022 season
  • Soil samples have been collected to provide baseline soil nutrient levels
  • Information about the project was shared at the Tasmanian autumn Future Orchards Walk
  • To encourage grower interest and participation, a ‘Soil your Undies’ campaign was promoted at the FGT June Conference, ready to commence on 1 September 2021.


Read more and watch a video about the project on APALs website, as part of the PIPS3 program.

Find out more about taking part in the Soil your Undies campaign.

Related levy funds

This project is a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Apple and Pear Fund