Hort Innovation launches $28m program to boost tree-crop productivity

Hort Innovation, the NSW Government Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (WA DPIRD) and the South Australia Research and Development Institute (SARDI) have joined forces in a five-year, $28m effort to make Australia’s highest-value tree crops more productive.

The aim of the just-launched National Tree Crop Intensification in Horticulture Program is to develop the systems required to ‘intensify’ orchards while improving fruit trees’ productivity, fruit quality and profitability.

Initially, the program’s focus will be on citrus fruits, with almonds, avocados, macadamias and mangos also on the agenda. All are important crops in Australia that show significant potential for improved productivity through crop intensification.

Riverland citrus orchard, South Australia. Credit: Shutterstock

Tree crop intensification issues

Projects under the program include on-farm demonstrations giving key insights related to the adoption and extension of intensive cropping. Crop advisory groups will be set up for each of the five crops under consideration to provide insights and feedback from growers and researchers.

“Our 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,” NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) Director Horticulture, Dr Shane Hetherington, explained in an Hort Innovation media release (8 June 2021).

“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,” he said.

According to Plant and Food Research Australia Scientist Dr Grant Thorp, “Plant and Food Research has provided global leadership in increasing the yield per hectare of apple and other high-value crops through the intensification of tree crop production systems over the years.

“We’re glad to be collaborating with SARDI and researchers and growers in Australia, California and Spain to intensify the production systems of almond and macadamia,” Dr Thorp said.

“We’ll do so through increasing understanding of the underlying physiology and genetics of key orchard systems components and through the development of systems to better manage these components.”

The program has close links with the National Tree Genomics program, also underway under the Hort Innovation Advanced Production Systems Fund.

By working together, says Hort Innovation, the programs will gain knowledge collectively in areas of shared interest, thereby increasing the efficiency of outcomes.

Source: $28 million program to improve farm productivity I Hort Innovation media release, 8 June 2021