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Summerfruit experimental farm uncovering the science behind variability, productivity, quality and taste

Publication date: 11 February 2022

This investment is carrying on the multi-trial work conducted at the world-class Stonefield Field Laboratory, also known as the Summerfruit Experimental Orchard, in Tatura in Victoria.

The challenge

Reduce the variability of summerfruit quality and improve the consistency of peach, nectarine, apricot and plum orchards.

Meet Adrian

Adrian Conti is a summerfruit grower in Cobram, Victoria. He was one of many growers consulted before the launch of the experimental orchard, in order to determine what trials would be most beneficial to growers and how best to measure their impact.

Several years later, Adrian is pleased with the steady flow of research findings resulting from the orchard, and despite his demanding workload, ensures he stays on top of the project’s latest findings.

“I often watch the videos they produce,” he says. “I actually had one playing in the background the other day while I was writing an email. I was just listening to keep up to speed with what their findings were. I find it interesting.

“We’re too busy as growers and so we often just do what we’re comfortable with and what we know works. But you need to know what else is out there and what research is out there that’s comparable to what we do.

“I wouldn’t say the findings have completely changed the way we do things, but there are always things coming out that you pick up and learn from as a result.”

The approach

The world-class laboratory continues to produce a huge amount of data from various projects, moving us closer to more modern, large-scale, high-density orchards, featuring high levels of canopy and fruit uniformity. Advancements made at the experimental orchard are also leading to summerfruit orchards that better support mechanisation and offer labour and resource use efficiencies.

The latest phase of this orchard project is also examining the role of fruit position and light interception on fruit quality, assessing non-destructive fruit maturity and fruit quality technologies, developing production protocols to provide fruit that meets consumer expectations, and providing extensive summerfruit resources for grower training and education.

The impact

The project has delivered a structured national roadshow program in key growing regions, bringing growers up to date with the very latest learnings from the many trials conducted at the Tatura experimental orchard.

In the 2020/21 season, there was a suite of 11 such trials to determine the effects of crop load, rootstock, irrigation management and different canopy structures on fruit quality in selected peach, nectarine, apricot, and plum varieties.

Production protocols have also been developed and shared within the industry to ensure fruit that meets the expectations of domestic and export customers.