MPI funding for transition to Future Orchard Planting Systems

by | Dec 21, 2021 | News

A project to increase the successful adoption of a new growing system with the potential to double orchard productivity, improve environmental outcomes, and boost labour efficiency has received $1.65 million of Government funding.

Future Orchard Planting Systems (FOPS) is a scientifically proven fruit tree growing system. It has the potential to double yields and improve fruit quality by bringing orchard rows closer together and growing trees in a planar (two-dimensional) structure. This maximises the trees’ use of available light.

The Government support, which comes from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures), sits alongside the $1.1 million committed to the project by Plant & Food Research, and industry partners New Zealand Apples and Pears, Rockit Global, and Summerfruit New Zealand.

The five-year project, led by Dr Ben van Hooijdonk and Dr Jill Stanley from Plant & Food Research, is being delivered with AgFirst Consultants NZ and industry representatives. The project aims to investigate barriers in adopting new growing systems, validate and refine FOPS performance, and support uptake of emerging technologies.

Economic, social and environmental factors will be considered, with AgFirst undertaking modelling and evaluation of FOPS performance versus other emerging and conventional systems.

“SFF Futures is ideal for this type of project as it’s bringing the industry together to deliver positive outcomes,” says Dr Jill Stanley, Science Group Leader – Fruit Crops Physiology at Plant & Food Research.

Currently, less than 10 percent of orchard redevelopment in Aotearoa New Zealand has transitioned to two-dimensional systems such as FOPS.

“Adoption of something new can take time,” says Dr Stanley. “This project allows us to work with growers and investigate what information, data and metrics they need to have confidence in adopting a new growing system.

“For growers who have stepped up and already planted FOPS orchards, the project provides critical support. We want our early adopters to be successful while helping us gather data and refine system performance and management techniques.”

Dr Stanley says growers are currently facing many different issues, particularly labour shortages, return on investment, crop variability, and water restrictions. “This project will increase productivity and resource efficiency, plus FOPS is well-suited for machine-assisted labour or automation applications, due to the narrow canopy and fruit being easily accessible.”

Steve Penno, MPI’s Director of Investment Programmes, says preliminary research indicates that FOPS orchards are expected to use water and nutrients more efficiently in producing fruit compared with conventional growing systems. This project will measure nutrient and water use to validate this research.

“Early trials look promising, with industry projections indicating that if the system was widely adopted our growers could boost their yields significantly, increasing apple and other pipfruit revenue by $159 million per year by 2032.”

Dr Stanley hopes the project will break down the barriers to growers adopting the new technology. “This project will enable us to do some myth-busting, and demonstrate the major benefits this next generation orchard system has to offer.”

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Peter Wright

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