It is a nervous time for apple growers in the New South Wales Riverina region with the crucial period “royal flower” affected by an attack of cool and wet weather.
Sunshine has finally arrived in Batlow, but low temperatures and more than 100 millimeters received in a week reduced the bi-activity required for flowering pollination, which must occur in order for fruit to be produced.
Barney Hyam grows Pink Lady apples and said they had 10 days to get good pollination during the so-called important “royal flower” period.
The “royal flower” is the first flower of the season, and the pollination helps to ensure that high-quality fruit is produced.
“We’ve probably missed a lot of really appropriate time to pollinate the royal flower in the pink ladies, but we’ll get some pollination now that the forecast looks much better,” Hyam said.
“Hopefully the bees can get out and work and we can produce a decent crop in April, May next year.”
Beehives brought in to help pollination
Nearly two years after the black summer bush fires that devastated growers in the region, apple grower Ian Cathles said the wet weather had also increased the risk of fungal diseases, apple scab.
“You try to, between rain and everything, get out and protect your orchard.”
Cathles, which has had close to 1,200 millimeters of rain this year to date, is bringing 300 hives into its orchards to try to get as many flowers pollinated as possible.
“You want to achieve as high a yield as possible to be a productive orchard because the prices are not good at the moment.
“It’s a very tough year for the grower. All products are very cheap. There’s great value to consumers out there.”
The weather brings tough decisions
Ralph Wilson, of the Wilgro Orchards, said the difficult decision they faced was when to thin the apple trees using a nitrogen-based fertilizer.
The trees must be thinned to reduce the risk of apples falling and to meet the size requirements.
“It’s the most stressful period, because if you knock too much of the fruit off, you get a light crop, but if you do not knock enough off, it will affect next year’s crop, and that means you will have to thin in hand, ”Wilson said.
“The bees decide that because it’s wet and cold, ‘Let’s just sit in the hive for the day’.”
The apples grown in the Batlow region are packaged and marketed through Batlow apples.
Batlow Apple’s regional fruit plant manager Andrew Desprez said that although production had been affected by forest fires, things quickly turned around.
“Last year, production was up. We actually had twice as many apples as we had after fires,” Desprez said.
“The (previous) reduction in yield was also due to the drought, now it’s over. That’s part of the reason why production is back again.”
Sir. Desprez said many of the trees damaged by the fires had been replanted this winter and would be in production again in three years.