FARMVIEW Episode 2.1 transcript
Episode 2.1 - Business planning for hot dry conditions
Hugh and Kay Finlay
Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, Harcourt
In the next 5 years, I think the key to our success is going to be being able to adapt – well as we have adapted already – to low water conditions. We are expecting that we will have minimal irrigation and we are expecting that there will be no rainfall. Now if that does not happen that is a huge bonus and it will make growing an orchard much easier, but that is what we are planning for. That is what our whole business is geared towards, is that we are not going to get a lot of irrigation ever again and that it won't rain a lot. So our strategy is all about how much we can store in the soil because we still do get rainfall, so we want to make sure that we can capture all of that rainfall in our soil.
We have got a 60 acre property, 12 acres of which is currently under orchard that is split up into 4 main blocks. So we have got about 5,000 trees and we have got peaches, cherries, apricots, plumbs, nectarines, apples and pears.
And that is part of our risk management strategy so we give ourselves a long harvest, it is almost six months from November right through until April – whenever six months later is, and we have small quantities of all of those different varieties. So each week really there is at least two or three varieties that we should be picking that week. One of the reasons that that is a really good risk management strategy is that when something bad happens, because bad things happen all the time when you are trying to grow food, hopefully it will not happen to everything.
This property has a long history of being an orchard, about more than 100 years. It has been conventionally farmed in its recent history up until we started certifying about 6 years ago.
One of the other things that was a part of our decision in becoming certified was that being a small producer the squeeze is really on us economically and in order to really make a living out of a property this size, we are not producing the sort of volume of fruit that will make an income in the conventional market. Organic certification gave us excess to the wholesale organic market which then gives us prices that are much closer to almost retail in the conventional market. So there is a big economic benefit there as well. We started looking at our water usage and ways that we could reduce it, that was obviously going to be our best strategy. So drip irrigation on all the trees, which is something that has been happening in the district anyway. I am reading about soil biology. We could see that if we improved our soil, it would improve its water holding capacity and so that is pretty much where we have sort of been heading in the years of low water allocations.
The main way that we improve our soil and improve the soil biology is with compost and compost tea. They are the two main things and by adding compost to your soil, you are increasing your organic matter. You are feeding the biology, the microbes, the fungus and the bacteria in the soil, that it builds up the soil, it increases the airspace in the soil, it makes the soil friable and light and it means that it's got water holding capacity. Whereas if you, with years of sort of conventional use where you are heavily spraying the trees, you are not adding organic matter, you find that soil tends to get compacted and there is no spaces in between the soil particles and so its water-holding capacity is much reduced.
We are assuming that conditions will be you know this is what it is like now. That his is a normal year when you get low rainfall, hot dry conditions in summer and we feel our best way to approach that to protect ourselves is to increase the tree hill. You will find that trees again…no compacted soil…it comes back to soil biology. Any tree that is in good condition, I mean it is like a person – if you are in good health, you are going to be much more able to withstand the various extremes that happen to people. So it is the same with a tree, if it is in good condition, it will be able to withstand heat, cold, frost, the things that really knock trees and fruit around. The best protection against them is having the tree in good condition.
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