JULY 2008 PRIMEFACT 805 (REPLACES AGNOTE DPI-190)Organic fruit productionRobyn Neeson Feed the soil, not the plantOrganic Farming Liaison Officer, Farming SystemsResearch, Yanco Organic farmers aim to feed the soil, not the plant, to create a soil that is balanced in nutrients, has good structure, high biological activity and highIntroduction levels of organic matter. Organic growers believe that a plant grown under these conditions is healthierConsumers and producers of organic products and therefore less susceptible to attack by pestsunderstand organic agriculture as the production and diseases.of food and fibre without the use of syntheticchemicals. However, there is more to organicfarming than just doing away with artificial inputs. Planning the organic orchard There are several factors that you need to considerMinimum reliance on artificial inputs when setting up an organic fruit orchard.Organic farming aims to minimise inputs to createan agricultural system that is as near as possible to Site selectiona self-perpetuating or closed system of production. To grow organic fruit successfully, you need toHowever, some nutrients are removed when the crop maximise the local environmental factors in youris harvested, so some inputs in the form of composts favour. One way of doing this is to decide whichand green manure crops are added to replace particular crop you want to grow, then select thethese nutrients. Other natural substances may also most appropriate site. For example, if stone fruit isbe added to stimulate biological activity in the soil. your choice, the orchard may be located inland to avoid many pest and disease problems associatedHigh level of management with coastal production, and isolated from similar crops to minimise the risk of pests and diseases.Organic farmers rely on natural methods of pestand disease control, and crop nutrition. A high level The other approach is to decide on your location,of understanding is needed of the life cycles and then determine which crops can be successfullyinteractions of crops, livestock, weeds, pests and grown there using organic techniques.diseases. Problems that may arise need to be It is important to test the soil at your chosen site forpre-empted (rather than reacted to). pesticide and heavy metal contamination. ExcessiveThis requires a high level of management, levels of either will exclude your product from beingachieved through a variety of techniques: certified and sold as organic. This is also critical when converting established orchards. A soil test• creating environments that encourage beneficial will also provide important information about fertilityspecies to keep pest populations in check and nutrient levels.• selecting crop varieties that discourage or are Other site considerations include:resistant to pests and diseases • proximity to materials that can be utilised as a• using management tools such as crop rotations fertiliser or in compost making (such as animaland companion planting to inhibit or repel pests manures and straw)and diseases. • availability of transport and marketsSome naturally occurring chemicals such as derrisand pyrethrum are permitted in organic farming • availability of certified processing facilities.systems, but their use is not encouraged and oftenonly permitted as a last resort.
Organic certification Select varieties for the available markets, not vice versa. Contact wholesalers and retailers ofCertification means having your farm and farming organic produce to determine the lines in whichmethods inspected to confirm that they meet the demand exceeds current supply. Your certificationcertifiers standards for organic farming. The organisation may have received requests forcertifiers standards cover all the requirements of particular produce, so make enquiries with themthe National Standard for Organic and Bio-dynamic too.Produce. Since January 1993, exports of organicproduce have been required to meet this standard. Select varieties that are adaptable. It is an advantage to have additional markets available forIt is essential to develop an understanding of the second grade produce. For example, a peach hascertification process and the requirements of potential to value-add into products such ascertifying organisations, well before your first case preserves, pastes or dried fruit; while an orangeor tray of fruit is marketed. can be considered for juice, marmalades or the oilProduce may either be certified A Grade for a fully in the rind.converted organic farm or in conversion to organic Physiological features may give some varieties anproduction. Initially, the orchard will be classified in advantage that allows them to resist pest andconversion until your farming system satisfies the disease attack. Hairs or bristles on fruit may deterstandards of organic production. certain insect pests. For example, some peachCurrently, there are no legal requirements to varieties are less attractive to certain pests due tobecome certified. There are nevertheless, severe their hairy skin. Some fruit varieties have deeppenalties for selling non-organic produce as organic. cavities where the stalk attaches to the fruit providingThe Australia New Zealand Food Authority is perfect hiding places for pests, or environments forreviewing domestic requirements which, if approved, disease development.would make the labelling and certification of Some old cultivars exhibit desirable features whichdomestically produced organic food compulsory. discourage pest attack and are worth investigating. Some varieties may have been bred for resistanceProperty management planning to certain diseases. However, those produced byA property management plan will help you decide genetic engineering or treated with ionising radiation,the most appropriate layout and management are not permitted under organic standards.strategies for your enterprise, given the physical When selecting varieties for your area ask yourand natural constraints of the site, your resources district horticulturist and other growers about theand personal goals. performance and problems experienced with localAs an organic farmer you also need to consider: varieties. Forewarned is forearmed.• creating windbreaks and retaining existing Ground preparation and plantingvegetation to encourage predators within theorchard Before planting it is important to build up soil organic matter and nutrient load and to control• incorporating buffer strips along the boundaries of problem weeds (particularly perennials). Weedyour property to minimise the risk of pesticide spray control is easier to achieve before orcharddrift from neighbouring farms establishment, particularly as herbicides are not• developing a financial plan, including a marketing permitted.strategy, value-adding options and planning for thepossibility of income reduction during conversion to Green manure crops, containing both legume andorganic production. non-legume components, can be turned into the soil before planting, to add nitrogen and to build up soil organic matter. For example, an oats/vetchVariety selection crop may add up to 100 kg/ha of nitrogen to theSelection of material for planting is determined by a soil.number of factors. These include: Use soil and leaf tests to check for other soil• growing conditions nutrient deficiencies or structural problems before• pest and disease resistance planting. Several organic amendments are permitted under the standards, but their use must be recorded.• fruit quality parameters (such as size, firmness and keeping ability) Consider inter-row cropping between rows of fruit• maturity dates trees or vines, particularly while they are young. Crops could consist of herbs, flowers, vegetables,• market requirements. grasses or legumes (for hay, mulch or compost production). The benefits are obvious – increased PRIMEFACT 805, ORGANIC FRUIT PRODUCTION 2
bio-diversity and income before the main crop Cultural controlscomes into production and during conversion to Reduce the impact of pests by manipulatingorganic production. cultural practices. Some of the strategies employedEstablish a permanent mixed sod containing herbs, include the following.legumes and grasses as the orchard planting nears • Rotate crops when planting a new orchard – plantmaturity. Take care that the inter-row crop is not a botanically unrelated crops. Avoid replanting oldhost to pests of the main crop and that it doesnt orchard sites with the same crop as there may becompete with the main crop for nutrients and water. pest or disease carryover (for example, ArmillariaEstablish a windbreak before planting. A well in stone fruit and citrus orchards, or burrowingdesigned windbreak shelters young plants, nematodes, Radopholus similis, in bananas).increases bio-diversity, provides habitat for wildlife, • Cultivate the soil to disrupt the life-cycles of soilreduces levels of dust, and encourages predators inhabiting pests, weeds and diseases. Minimiseand bees. Planting timber or woodlot species can environmental damage by cultivating at thediversify and supplement on-farm income. appropriate time and at the correct soil moisture.To be most beneficial, windbreaks should be at Keep the number of cultivations to a minimum andleast five rows wide with medium to low shrubs do not cultivate steep slopes.located on the side of the prevailing winds. Wind • Vary the harvest time. Selective harvestingspeed can be halved by placing shelter belts 250 m periods may avoid the worst effects of pests at theapart. Avoid locating woodlots or shelter belts along crops most vulnerable period. You may need tothe bottom of slopes as frost pockets may develop. select cultivars which mature at a different time toThe design of the orchard can help in pest and the pests peak occurrence.disease management. For example, mixing species • Vary crop spacing. Spacing and siting of cropswithin a block can disorientate insect pests. You may affect the relative growth rate of a plant andcan achieve this effect by planting in a semi- the behaviour of pests in searching for food orrandom layout, being careful not to make harvesting egg laying sites. Closer plantings may favour thedifficult. Species that ripen at the same time as the spread of beneficial species within the orchard, butmain crop, but which are more attractive to pests may also reduce air movement, increasing levels ofsuch as birds, can be located elsewhere to lure disease.pests away. • Prune crops. Thinning, topping and pruning ofNewly planted trees and vines need to be well dead or diseased material from fruit trees reduceswatered-in, provided with permanent irrigation, disease incidence and maintains productivity andmulched, and protected from pests (such as vigour.insects, rabbits and kangaroos). • Keep orchards clean. Remove pest breeding and hibernating sites by removing, destroying orOrchard management composting old or fallen fruit. Clean paddockOrganic systems aim to recreate natural systems. borders to reduce pest migrations and weedNatural systems support several competing infestations. Study the insects and wildlifespecies, so that no single species has a consistent inhabiting paddock borders first to avoid destroyingadvantage. This is contrary to the main objective of habitats of beneficial species. If fire breaks aremodern agricultural systems where the enterprise required these areas may need to be modified.must maintain a permanent advantage, to beviable. Manipulation of species diversitySeveral management tools are available to help Manipulation of species diversity annual croppingorganic farmers to achieve this. systems is an effective method of enhancing the competitive advantage of the main crop. However, few of these techniques have been evaluated inPest and disease management perennial systems.Integrated pest and disease management (IPDM) Some of the methods used in annual croppingis an approach to pest and disease management systems include:that utilises a range of techniques intended toreduce economic damage. • strategically increasing the number of plant species that act as a barrier to the pest, orThere are several techniques you can use to providing an alternative preferred host (for examplemanage pests and diseases. trap cropping); • strategically decreasing diversity to deprive pests of alternative food and refuge sites. PRIMEFACT 805, ORGANIC FRUIT PRODUCTION 3
The method and design for varying species with organic farming principles, so frequent use ofdiversity depends on details such as the life cycle chemicals is discouraged.and habits of the species you wish to influence. Many of these chemicals have been selected forPlant resistance their short period of persistence in the environment, rather than low toxicity, so take care duringPlant resistance is the ability of a plant to grow and application. Follow the directions on the label andproduce despite the presence of pests. It may be be certain the chemical is registered for both thenaturally inherited or artificially bred into plants. crop and its intended use.Breeding for resistance aims to combine genesfrom related varieties with desirable characteristics Check with your certification organisation beforeinto new, more resistant varieties. using any commercial product as some may contain additives that are not acceptable under theMany older non-hybrid varieties have natural standards.resistance to pests and diseases. Naturalresistance has been lost in many modern cultivars Whatever pest management strategies you select,bred for yield increases. Several organisations the more information you can obtain about thespecialise in producing non-hybrid planting pests life cycle and habits, the better.material. Weed managementBiological controls Weeds teach us that we have to learn to live withBiological controls use the natural enemies nature rather than dominate it.(parasites, predators and disease organisms) ofpest species. These natural enemies may be Each weed occupies an ecological niche and hasintroduced from external sources (mass reared and a role in that niche. For example, deep rootedthen released into the orchard), or – if they are species will ‘recycle’ nutrients from deep down inalready in the orchard – encouraged to breed the soil profile, making them available to shallownaturally. rooted species. Other species may provide habitats for beneficial insects.Naturally occurring predators can be encouragedby conserving and encouraging existing populations. A well managed organic orchard should notMaintaining a mixture of desirable plants in the develop a significant weed problem. A majororchard border and in ground covers will encourage objective in organic farming is to change thepredators. composition of the weed community so that the orchard gains maximum benefit.Some plants attract predators of pests. Forexample, members of the Umberlliferae family, Sometimes, however, one species may dominatesuch as carrots and parsnips, attract parasitic or a noxious weed (one that, by law, must bewasps and are used as an understorey crop in controlled) may be present, so the weed should beapples to help control codling moth. managed. Weed management around young trees and vines,Mechanical controls is essential.Mechanical controls can be used to trap or killpests, or physically prevent pests gaining access to Mulchingcrops. Corrugated cardboard bands tied around Mulching helps to retain moisture, minimises weedstrunks of apple trees help to control and monitor and improves biological activity in the soil.codling moth. Bird netting or paper bags over fruit Inorganic and organic materials may be used forexclude flying foxes and birds. mulching. The mulch must be applied thickly enough to suppress the growth of weeds andPhysical environment germination of their seeds. A layer 2–3 cm deepModification of the physical environment can also should be adequate.help. Light traps and sticky traps decoy night flying Various methods can be used to accumulate mulchinsects; bird scaring devices keep birds away; solar under a tree or vine row. These include mowingenergy and black plastic can be used to control (swing-arm mowers mulch under tree areas, andweeds (solarisation); or a crop such as canola that some orchard mulchers throw mowings into theinhibits certain pests (biofumigation) can be used. under-tree area), and growing a winter-activeChemical controls under-tree sod which forms a mulch after it dies.Chemical controls. Several chemicals for pest and Grazingdisease control are permissible under the organic Animals in the orchard can offer good weed controland bio-dynamic standards. However, long-term and provide additional benefits of extra income,reliance on these substances is not in accordance added manure, insect control and the recycling of PRIMEFACT 805, ORGANIC FRUIT PRODUCTION 4
crop wastes. Chinese or weeder geese and even Green manure cropscarefully managed sheep are some examples. Green manure crops are grown specifically to beHowever, care should be taken, particularly during cultivated back into the soil to build up soil organicdroughts, when livestock may feed on trees or matter and nutrients. They are especially usefulvines. during orchard establishment.It is a good idea to introduce stock into the orchard The type of green manure crop and stage it iswhen they are young to develop their taste for turned in determines the amount of organic matterweeds and a grazing routine. Various systems of or nutrients returned to the soil. For example, aelectric fencing are available to facilitate grazing. lush, actively growing legume sward (for exampleOther organisms vetch, faba beans or lupins) contains large amounts of nitrogen that is released to the soil uponInsects and fungi have been commercially reared cultivation. The same crop when allowed to mature,and released to control weeds such as Paterson’s contributes more organic matter but less availableCurse and Bathurst burr. nitrogen. If a soil is low in organic matter, then a green manure crop that increases soil organicMechanical methods matter is desirable (for example oats).These include:• slashing (mowing, brush cutting) Permanent sods• strategic cultivation These are planted between the rows, and are the preferred method of inter-row management in• forage harvesting orchards because the orchard soil ecosystem• brush weeding (not suitable for biennial or remains undisturbed. This favours the development perennial weeds such as docks or thistles) of plant roots and soil biology; and helps to retain• thermal weeding (hot air, hot water or flame). good soil structure.When using this equipment you should fit guards to Ideally, a sod consists of a range of perennial plantprotect trees and vines. species. For example it may contain a mixture of:Perhaps one of the most important methods of • grasses (for example ryegrass or fescue), efficientweed control is hand weeding. Most weed problems in obtaining potassium from the soil and able tostart out as small outbreaks which are easily utilise excess organic nitrogen;controlled with hand hoeing, if caught early. • legumes (for example clover or lucerne), able to add 40–140 kilograms per hectare per year ofSoil management and crop nutrition nitrogen to the soil reservoir and also feed the grasses and the crop;Organic farming is not just about replacing artificialfertilisers with organic fertilisers and manures, it is • herbs (for example comfrey and chicory), high inabout feeding the soil ecosystem and making full essential elements with deep roots capable ofuse of the resources on the farm. The overall aim is bringing up leached elements that are otherwiseto minimise nutrient inputs and losses from within unavailable to the crop.the system. A variety of species also attract a variety of otherOrganic farmers can build up soil fertility in the organisms that may assist with pest and diseaseorchard by planting cover crops, and by adding control in the orchard, but avoid planting orcrop residues, animal manures and composts, rock encouraging species that are known to host pestsdusts and special preparations that stimulate soil or diseases of the orchard crop.biological and chemical activity. Some organic Sods should be regularly mowed and clippingsfertilisers may also be used, particularly during collected for use in compost, directed under treesconversion to organic farming. or vines as mulch, or left to break down in theLeaf and soil analysis is needed to determine the inter-row area. Keeping the sod well mown ensuresnutrient status of the crop and soil. the continual release of nutrients and also helps to minimise the risk of frost damage to crops.Cover crops Occasionally, the inter-row area may becomeInter-row cover crops can provide additional compacted by machinery and the soil benefits bynutrients to the crop, increase soil organic matter being aerated and loosened without being turnedand improve orchard biodiversity. Several over. Various machines (for example Wallace Soiltechniques can be adopted. Aerator® and Agroplow®) are available to do this. PRIMEFACT 805, ORGANIC FRUIT PRODUCTION 5
Semi-permanent sods Composts are derived from the conversion of organic ingredients into humus colloids. In organicThese consist of annuals which die down or are farming, composts are frequently added to soils toslashed in early summer to form a mulch in the improve soil fertility and increase humus content.inter-row area. Suitable species include annualryegrass, oats, lupins, vetch and field peas. Composted material generally provides a more stable form of organic matter than raw wastes,Alternatively, warm-weather crops may be planted which is better for the long-term maintenance oflate. These die off in cold weather, allowing a mulch soil organic matter. In addition, composts halve theto form, and result in more soil moisture in spring volume of organic matter, which makes spreadingthan if a winter-hardy cover crop had been planted. easier.There is less competition from semi-permanent Compost activators, rock phosphate and rocksods for water and nutrients, and they require less dusts, and bio-dynamic preparations are oftenfrequent mowing, but they also offer less diverse added to compost heaps. These are claimed toorchard fauna and flora. speed up composting and enhance the availability of nutrients to plant roots.Organic fertilisers and amendments Mineral fertilisersThe removal of nutrients in produce and throughnatural processes such as leaching and Fertilisers of mineral origin are rock-basedvolatilisation, means that organic inputs are materials and include rock phosphate, dolomite,required to maintain crop quality and production. limestone and rock dusts (from silicate rocks,Contact the certification organisation regarding the including basalt and bentonite).use of any organic inputs as it may require the Rock dusts may be added directly to the soil orinput to be certified before use. The use of any added to compost heaps. Whichever method ofinput should be recorded in a diary. application is favoured, release of nutrients fromAnimal manures and composts the rock dusts is accelerated by moist conditions, high temperatures and high biological activityThese may be available on-farm or from nearby (for example during a green manure stage orlivestock enterprises. composting).The organic standards require that manure Other fertilisersintended for application is composted before use.When manure is composted, it is easier to spread, Other fertilisers are often more readily available orand losses to the environment are minimised. are cheaper sources of nutrients. These include:The nutrient composition of animal manures varies • waste products from fish or animal processingsignificantly, so it is advisable to test each batch to (for example blood and bone, and fish meal)determine application rates. Testing should also • seaweed or seaweed mealindicate the presence of toxic elements such asantibiotics and heavy metals, which are not allowed • sawdustunder organic standards. • bark and wood wasteIt is easy to over-use organic manures. Excess • basic slag (after residue testing for heavynitrates can pollute waterways, damage the roots metals)of young trees and cause fruit quality problems. • wood ash.For example, over-supply of nitrogen in grapeslowers fruit quality and increases canopy density, Commercial organic fertiliserswhich reduces air circulation and increases the Commercial organic fertilisers. These are generallyincidence of disease. Regular soil analysis is allowed for restricted use in organic farmingessential to help monitor soil nutrient status and systems.to avoid problems. To describe fertilisers, manures or other materialsSite manure or compost heaps away from water as 100% organic means they are derived fromcourses. Incorporation into the soil or slashing animal and vegetable by-products.ground covers over recently spread manure canhelp to reduce losses and odours. However, under the Fertilisers Act, 1985 (New South Wales) commercial organic fertilisersA cover placed over stockpiled manures minimises are permitted to have up to 35% artificialvolatilisation before spreading. Nutrient losses are compounds added to boost the percentage ofgreater from shallow, flat heaps compared to deep nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Thesestacks with steep sides. blended fertilisers are not acceptable under organic standards. PRIMEFACT 805, ORGANIC FRUIT PRODUCTION 6
When using organic fertilisers it is important to Supply and demand for organic products dependcalculate the cost per hectare based on the amount on the number of farmers supplying that line, theof actual nutrient supplied in the product. In number of consumers prepared to pay the price forcommercially packaged products and manures the goods and the time of year. Be prepared to marketanalysis may vary significantly, so it is advisable to your produce on the conventional market at somehave each batch tested. stage. Value-adding can increase the range of productsNutrient budgets that you can market and provides an outlet forNutrient budgets allow you to identify potential blemished fruit (for example, processing into jamsnutrient losses and gains to the orchard system. and juices).The aim of a nutrient budget is to help estimate the Various methods of marketing organic produce arebalance of soil nutrients remaining after considering available. Your choice of marketing strategy willfertiliser applications less losses (for example, in depend on factors such as the size and proximityremoval of produce and prunings to the environment, of markets, closeness to other organic producers,such as in leaching and atmospheric volatilisation). on-farm infrastructure (for example, processingRates of fertiliser or manure application should facilities), availability of transport, continuity ofbe based on the results of a soil analysis and supply and the commitment to time that is involved.recommendations for the crop’s requirements, Some selling strategies used by organic farmerswhich can be obtained from district horticulture include:officer. • local market stalls • road-side stallsMarketing • pick-your-ownMarketing requirements • wholesalers or packer/distributorsIt is illegal to sell non-organic produce as organic. It • direct to retailersis also a legal requirement to have organic produce • centralised markets/agentsdestined for the export market certified. Currently, • producer cooperativeslocally marketed organic produce does not requirecertification, but this is expected to change in the • home delivery/mail ordernear future. However, if your farm is certified, more • subscription farmsmarkets are open to you because many traders • Internet subscription sales.prefer certified organic produce. Most producers at some time will market theirOrganic produce must meet all relevant local, state produce through organic wholesalers in large cities.and federal requirements, just like other produce. Some work as agents on a standard commission,Organic farmers must comply with regulations on others as wholesalers who buy produce for anproduce, such as fruit labelling. An inspection agreed price. Before you deal with an agent orcertificate may be required to accompany your wholesaler, find out what they will do for youconsignment if it is to be sold interstate and and what the arrangements are for payment.intrastate, particularly if that State is free of fruit Contact the State Market Authority to determinefly. if the agent/wholesaler is properly set up with indemnities.Marketing strategiesThe first rule of successful marketing is to produce Quality assurancewhat consumers want. Marketing is about Marketing organic produce requires just as muchidentifying products that the consumer wants, and attention to quality assurance as for conventionalsupplying at the right price, and in the right form. produce. Dont be tempted to market inferiorMarket research provides this type of information. products; value-add any second grade produceAt the same time you should promote your product wherever possible.and inform the consumer about the benefits of it. It is good practice to keep an up-to-date record ofOne idea is to include a colourful brochure with each all practices and procedures carried out in thebox or consignment describing your production orchard, including detailed information on eachmethods. processing or packing run. This allows for problemThe market for organic produce varies significantly; batches to be easily traced and further problemsit is easy to oversupply, particularly with fresh lines. avoided. PRIMEFACT 805, ORGANIC FRUIT PRODUCTION 7