Tree crops take focus in farm productivity program

Hort Innovation puts $28 million into lifting tree crop productivity

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PRIORITY: Almonds, avocados, citrus, macadamias and mangoes will be the first crops to benefit from Horticulture Innovation's National Tree Crop Intensification in Horticulture Program.

PRIORITY: Almonds, avocados, citrus, macadamias and mangoes will be the first crops to benefit from Horticulture Innovation's National Tree Crop Intensification in Horticulture Program.

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A new program will look to help growers produce more fruit and nuts per hectare.

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ALMONDS, avocados, citrus, macadamias and mangoes will be the first crops to benefit from a major Hort Innovation productivity project.

The five-year $28 million National Tree Crop Intensification in Horticulture Program aims to give growers the tools needed to produce more fruit and nuts per hectare.

The program will develop systems to increase the intensity of orchards while improving production, quality and profitability outcomes for growers.

The five initial tree crops identified are regarded by Hort Innovation as important to Australian horticulture and have strong potential for improved productivity through crop intensification.

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Hort Innovation research and development manager Dr Adrian Hunt said the program will investigate scion rootstock combinations, orchard design, vigour and canopy management strategies for optimal light interception.

"Orchard automation is also a key industry goal and the program will provide insights from a tree physiology perspective to facilitate this transformation," Dr Hunt said.

The program involves an international collaboration of leading research providers from Australia, New Zealand, USA and Spain - creating a transformational international research program.

Queensland agriculture minister Mark Furner said Queensland's macadamia, mango and avocado tree crop industries were worth a combined farm gate value of $518 million in 2018/19.

"Through this program, the Queensland Government will co-invest $15.3 million to increase tree crop productivity through intensification, improve profitability for producers, and support jobs in regional and rural Queensland," Mr Furner said.

The program is being led by:

  • The Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries;
  • New South Wales Department of Primary Industries;
  • Plant and Food Research, in Australia and New Zealand.

Collaborators include:

NSW agriculture minister Adam Marshall said citrus was one of most important horticultural industries in NSW, worth $242.6 million per year.

"NSW produces around 250,000 tonnes of citrus annually, representing 40 per cent of Australia's production and 36pc of citrus exports," Mr Marshall said.

"The NSW Department of Primary Industries has the largest citrus research and extension team in Australia and plays a leading role in supporting the NSW and Australian citrus industry with its substantial research, extension and information capacity."

These improved and intensive cropping systems will contribute to the strategic priorities of industries included in the program.

The projects include on-farm demonstrations that will provide critical insight in the adoption and extension of intensive cropping.

Each of the five crops also have crop advisory groups to provide ongoing insight and feedback from growers and researchers.

NSW Department of Primary Industries director horticulture Dr Shane Hetherington the organisation's research program will address citrus tree canopies modified using dwarfing viroids, dwarfing rootstocks, planting densities, pruning and cultural practices, and plant growth regulators to understand their effect on the relationships between fruit density, canopy volume and saleable fruit.

"Our work will also include surveys of a wide range of citrus varieties in an attempt to better understand the physical traits that promote fruit density and, in turn, suitability to production intensification," Dr Hetherington said.

The program is closely linked to the National Tree Genomics program also underway in the Hort Innovation Advanced Production Systems Fund.

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