Shavin Chandra (left), Vineyard Manager, pictured with John Ryan.
Tetley Brook Estate was formed in 2005 when the first 118 hectare block was converted from sheep and beef farming into viticulture. After developing additional vineyard area on the home block a neighbouring vineyard was also purchased; the Tetley Brook Estate vineyard area now consists of 166 hectares.
Tetley Brook Estate employs five staff including Shavin Chandra, the vineyard manager, and grows grapes under contract to Indevin, Matua and Accolade Wines.
We spoke with John and Maria Ryan. John tells us there’s sixteen frost fans covering the two blocks. John said their first lesson in frost protection was when one block got ‘tickled up’ a few years ago and frosted once before they installed the fans. That was the 2011-12 season when two thirds of one block was frosted and they lost around 60 tonnes all up. That prompted them to put in four FrostBoss™ C49 fans. Since then, John and Shavin have seen an increase in yield of more than 20% in the areas protected by the frost fans.
Tetley Brook Estate has had more than its fair share of challenges with the 2013 Seddon earthquake and the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. Fortunately, the vineyards were undamaged and whilst it’s had an impact on the lives and daily routines of the Ryan family and their staff, they’ve not let it stop them.
In 2016, two more FrostBoss™ machines were purchased, one for a new development and the other for the leading edge of their Pinot Gris block.
They have three different brands of frost fan across their two vineyards but John and Shavin favour the FrostBoss™ machines. “They’ve been outstanding with the area they cover, ease of access to the motor and large 500 litre capacity fuel tanks. We also had New Zealand Frost Fans upgrade the old alloy blades on our Amarillo machines with the FrostBoss™ C39 composite blades (3 blade system) and these have proven to be quieter and more efficient.”
John values the relationships Tetley Brook Estate are involved with in the viticulture industry like New Zealand Frost Fans – “we also use JTC Viticulture in Blenheim for contract harvesting and fertiliser spreading” - and takes pride in the positive relationships highlighting Tetley Brook Estate grapes are supplied to Indevin, Matua and Accolade Wines.
“We’ve been hitting our tonnage caps and this season is looking like we’ll get good yields. We’ll be harvesting in April so we’ll let you know.”
Hamish Rose manages the family owned vineyards.
Wairau River Wines own 330 hectares of vineyards across ten blocks around Rapaura in Marlborough, New Zealand.
Established by Phil and Chris Rose in 1978, Wairau River Wines is one of Marlborough’s largest family owned wine growing operations.
We spoke with Hamish, Phil and Chris’s son, who was brought up amongst the vines and now oversees the Vineyards.
Hamish tells us his brother, Sam, is the Winemaker and his three sisters and 2 brothers-in-law are also integral to the business, which also has its own bottling plant and an acclaimed Winery Restaurant and Cellar Door.
Primarily growing Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau River Wines grow a variety of grapes and export 80 percent of their wines.
The winery now handles 5500 tonnes of grapes each season. With the intention to not only maintain the land but improve it for the next generation, Wairau River choose sustainable methods such as returning the marc (grape skins) back to the vineyards by spreading them under the rows as compost.
Hamish tells us they have been hit by frosts prior to having frost fans. One year they only got 180 tonnes off a block that usually delivers 2000 tonnes of grapes.
“The two frost fan machines on our colder Wairau block save the crop every year”, says Hamish.
Before installing fans, they used helicopters but they were expensive. Fans take the risk out of it by covering all the sensitive areas. They plan to cover more areas susceptible to being ‘tickled up’ by frost with fans over the next few years. “In those areas you see shoot damage and might lose 5% of the crop. There’s may be a slight hollow where you’ll see a few plants where the shoots are fried”, says Hamish.
Wairau River Wines strive to make the best wines they can; their Pinot Gris was a trophy winner in the 2016 Air New Zealand Wine Awards. At the same time, “security of supply is also important and something we have to manage when the difference in volume between a good and bad vintage may be 20% to 30%. All it takes is a poor couple of weeks over flowering for the Sauvignon Blanc.”
As well as using frost fans, Hamish explains they manage the risk and uncertainty of weather patterns by having a number of sites with their furthest vineyard at Dillons Point on the other side of Blenheim.
Hamish uses locally manufactured FrostBoss™ fans from New Zealand Frost Fans because of their advanced technology and quiet running which is within the noise regulation requirements of Marlborough District Council. Impressed by the level of service and support, he has since purchased FrostBoss™ C49 fans and a FrostBoss™ C59 five blade fan, which runs even more quietly than the C49, for their Kaituna block which has neighbours nearby.*
To find out more about Wairau River Wines go to www.wairauriverwines.com
Sacred Hill Marlborough has company and grower vineyards in Marlborough. Their latest development is at Bartlett’s Creek in the Wairau Valley which will see 170 hectares developed into a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.
We caught up with Brian Woods, General Manager for Sacred Hill Marlborough. He loves the Marlborough lifestyle and appreciates the opportunities the wine industry has provided him, enabling him to stay in the area and build a livelihood.
Brian says the conversion of the Marlborough region into vineyards has coincided with technology advances, which have allowed growers to develop areas previously considered unviable. “Certainly that’s the case at Bartlett’s Creek. Frost fans have been factored into the development. It would be too big a risk without them”, he says.
Brian spends more time worrying about their supposedly frost free blocks (with no fans) than the blocks with frost fan protection.
“The impact from frost damage ripples right through the whole supply chain. Customers expect you to deliver. It’s your reputation at stake and you can’t afford to lose shelf space because it’s hard to get it back”, he says.
Contract growers are encouraged to invest in frost fans to mitigate risk around being able to deliver contract tonnages. Brian likes to think of Sacred Hill as laterally integrated, surrounding themselves with suppliers they can trust.
He explains you don’t want to start the season off badly with frost damage because your vineyard expenses carry on regardless and, in fact, are likely to increase if you employ additional labour to thin the vines to avoid the difference in ripening times between first and second shoots. Otherwise, you have to accept poor quality and that’s going to affect your wine quality.
Brian sees frost fans as a thing of beauty. Not only do they protect our livelihoods; they’re a sculpture in the vineyard. “People ask me, where’s the best place in Marlborough to avoid frosts and I tell them underneath a frost fan”, quips Brian.
Other than ‘Mother Nature’, global events and their impact on export markets are the next big risk at the front of his mind.
“Twelve years ago, up to seventy helicopters would fly in before a frost and some years we’d spend a considerable portion of our operating budget on frost protection. It quickly became obvious that fans were a more reliable and cheaper option. Not everybody believed in frost fans back then, but nowadays they’re the norm.”
Brian likes to support local industry whenever possible. He appreciates the service and support through New Zealand Frost Fans’ depot in Blenheim and knows the technology behind every FrostBoss™ machine leads the market when it comes to meeting the Marlborough District Council’s noise regulations.*
Clonmel Trading Limited.
The Hickson family orchards have been growing kiwifruit since 1980. Originally the family business included dairy farming before concentrating on kiwifruit. Husband and wife team Andre and Helen Hickson’s orchard covers 15 hectares and Andre’s brother also owns a kiwifruit orchard next door. Between them they have three FrostBoss™ C49 machines protecting the vines.
With his laptop beside him there’s not much Andre cannot tell us about the factors that made each season good, bad or indifferent. As we discuss the factors which have influenced harvest yields and orchard gate returns over the years, as well as the broader industry, it’s immediately evident as to why Andre was elected to the New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers (NZKGI) executive with responsibility for performance and education.
Andre turns his laptop towards me to show what can happen when you have no frost protection and get hit. After the orchards were frosted in September 2002, the yield (trays/hectare) plummeted 80% on the prior year. The following year they put in a pond and pipelines for irrigation and frost protection. In 2007, the first frost fans were installed.
When we caught up with Andre in May 2017, they had just finished their 34th harvest and earlier in the week the fans had run for several hours on three consecutive nights. Andre explains “at this time of year we’re trying to keep the leaves on until we’ve done a post-harvest spray to protect the vines from Psa-V. Maintaining the leaf quality also supports next year’s buds and is preferential for plant nutrient retention to maximise dry matter.” Dry matter (DM) is a measure used to calculate the ratio of dry to fresh weight – the higher the dry matter the better the taste.
Dry matter reflects the amount of carbohydrates in the fruit and is one of the measures of taste developed from market research undertaken by Zespri. The Taste Zespri Grade (TZG) was introduced in 2001 with the objective to produce the best tasting kiwifruit in each segment (Green, Gold, Red) and for this superior taste experience to be consistently delivered to the consumer.
The orchards are managed by EHC Orchard Management and the fruit supplied to Zespri through Trevelyan's and DMS.
Looking to the future, the Hicksons have another 6 hectares from the original dairy farm they could develop for kiwifruit and they’re looking at another fan for Andre’s brother’s orchard. “It’ll work out more cost effective than putting in water and it’s good to keep the water off – Psa likes cold and damp conditions”, says Andre.
Keiran Harvey – Producing Orchard Manager, BAYGOLD Ltd.
Jim McBride purchased his first Hayward Green, 3 hectare, tee bar orchard in September 1978.
Jim’s son, Murray, took up the opportunity to build a life and business within the industry, which led to the development of multiple orchards and a management company called BAYGOLD Ltd.
With around 40 permanent employees, currently another 40 employed for picking under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) programme and four contracting companies with a couple of hundred staff between them BAYGOLD provides significant employment in the region.
Today BAYGOLD manages approximately 250 hectares of kiwifruit orchards, the majority of which fall under a JV partnership company.
We spoke with Keiran Harvey, Producing Orchard Manager, who is responsible for 105 hectares of Gold3 variety orchards.
BAYGOLD has four FrostBoss™ C49 frost fans, which are used in combination with water for frost protection.
Keiran explains “the fans are positioned in the more vulnerable, colder, low spots in the orchards and we use them as our first line of defence against frosts. We had three consecutive frosts earlier in the week and only used the fans.
“With all the fruit now off the plants, the main objective at this time of the year is to protect the plant internals. At -3°c or lower, the Psa risk becomes much greater and can cause the trunks to blow out on the young plants.”
With the Gold3 variety licenses selling for a median price per hectare of $270,000 in the latest round of licence release and average per-hectare returns increasing by close to 40% in 2015/16, there’s now a greater incentive to manage the risk of cold injury and invest in frost protection.
For more information about BAYGOLD, go to www.baygold.co.nz
One of the FrostBoss C49 machines protecting the kiwifruit at Trinity Lands.
Trinity Lands manages 115 hectares and picks 1.5 million trays of kiwifruit.
We spoke with Nathan Smith, Orchard Manager, who looks after 76 hectares in Paengaroa, and has been involved since 2000.
Over the last few years, Nathan explains how they have expanded with the purchase of kiwifruit orchards in Athenree and Awakeri to add to their holdings in Paengaroa and Katikati. They predominantly grow the Gold3 variety with some Hayward Green.
Trinity Lands has six FrostBoss™ C49 frost fans, which are used in combination with water for frost protection. Because Psa likes cold and damp conditions “we use the fans in the wetter areas rather than introducing more water”, explains Nathan. “The Psa risk still has to be managed by spraying and cleaning tools and machinery, which all takes time and money. Nevertheless, some plants and canes die back and areas of replanting are required.”
“In the days before we had the frost fans, we sometimes used helicopters. It costs about $12,500 to contract a helicopter and once this is used up you pay by the hour. You have to make a decision by 4.30pm whether to call them in and have them on stand-by, even though you may not end up using them. Now we have the frost fans, we don’t have to make those hard calls and it’s easier to sleep at night.”
Whilst weather and disease directly affect your orchard gate return, Nathan also places a great emphasis on his team. “Growing kiwifruit is labour intensive – it’s your biggest cost – good people and the right culture are so important.”
This philosophy extends to their suppliers. “With a local service depot here in Te Puke, we get good back-up service from New Zealand Frost Fans.”
FrostBoss C59 pictured at Te Puke Orchards
The Burt family settled in Te Puke in the early 1940’s. Dairying and citrus provided a modest income. Today the business grows Hayward and G3 kiwifruit and is run by brothers John and Peter making them third generation growers.
Of the several orchards they own, two properties are each protected by two FrostBoss™ C49 machines. With the acquisition of additional G3 license on the orchard at No 3 Road and the blocks being both prone to frost damage and closer to a residential area they installed the even quieter FrostBoss™ C59 (5 blade machine).
We caught up with the brothers in late May at the end of picking. Their frost machines had run for three consecutive nights earlier in the week. “The frost machines are an ‘insurance policy’ we wouldn’t be without”, says Peter.
During spring, the machines protect kiwifruit vines from damage caused by spring frosts: protecting newly emerged buds, flowers, young fruitlets and newly formed leaf canopy. During autumn, the fans protect the orchard from frosts that can cause fruit damage and burning of the the leaves, which can lead to subsequent fruit staining. By protecting the leaves, it also gives the vine time to release nutrients stored back to the roots prior to shedding.
“With the FrostBoss™ fans, we use the remote monitoring option”, says Peter. This enables growers to access real-time monitoring of fans via their smartphone, together with text alarms and historical data and graphs on temperature, run-hours and machine performance.
“We chose Frost Boss™ because they are New Zealand made. The value of the local high quality afterhours service is unparalleled.
FrostBoss C49 frost fans are the most popular frost fan with growers in Australia and New Zealand.
ACN Orchards in Bunbartha, Victoria grow stonefruit and apples. Brothers Cohn and Nick Parris are third generation growers and share responsibility for running the business, employing up to 75 staff when picking and packing.
After Cohn first saw the fans working at his cousin John Parris’ orchard in Bunbartha (north of Shepparton), he bought his first three FrostBoss™ C49 machines in 2011 with another three installed during 2014-15.
Whilst it’s only every few years that frosts would have been a disaster without the fans, Cohn sees them as an insurance policy and notes they prevent what would otherwise be regular crop loss in the low points of undulating land.
Cohn has also seen greater consistency in the crop. Sometimes you saw a line through the trees where there was no fruit before the fans went in.
ACN Orchards have their own packing shed and with the combination of stonefruit and apple varieties – Granny Smith and Pink Lady – they harvest for six months of the year through until mid-May.
Cohn and Nick do their research. Nick regularly travels to the USA to research new varieties and growing techniques. And when it came to choosing their frost fans they also did their homework. “The FrostBoss™ fans are simple to operate and local support and service back up is excellent”, says Cohn.
Michael Dhillon, Bindi Wines.
Bindi Wines, based 50 kilometres north-west of Melbourne in the Macedon ranges, is the family property of the Dhillon family. Originally purchased in the 1950s as part of the larger grazing farm ‘Bundaleer’, ‘Bindi’ is a 170 hectare farm of which 7 hectares are planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fifteen hectares are dedicated to managed plantation eucalypts for high grade furniture timber whilst the remainder of the land is maintained as remnant bush land and important indigenous grasslands.
Typical hand management regimes of fastidious small vineyard philosophies are maintained encompassing hand pruning, frequent passes (at least ten passes each vine) through the growing season managing the vertical shoot positioned canopy and hand harvesting.
Since 2005 organic procedures have been implemented and inputs where the focus is on promoting soil life and balance leading to excellent vine health. This involves compost, under-vine cultivation and aerating the soil (opening up the soil for air, moisture and soil applications).
Bindi Wines use a single FrostBoss™ C49 frost fan to protect their boutique vineyard. With a vineyard elevation 500 metres above sea level, owner Michael Dhillon tells us the fan has run a couple of times over summer - he remembers the time and dates and you can sense the peace of mind and relief they provide - automatically firing up around 6.00am on 21st February and also after a light frost on 19th December. “It would have clocked up around 20 hours over the last 12 months”, says Michael.
The critical time with wine grapes is during spring if there are potentially damaging cold events at postbudbreak stages of grape development.
As well as their own Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, Bindi Wines source Shiraz grapes from a friend’s block up the road. Bindi Wines are rare but recognised among Australia’s finest. For more details go to www.bindiwines.com.au
Carmelo Vraca (right) with Ben Daking from Australian Frost Fans.
G & M Vraca own three orchard blocks close to Toolamba, in the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria growing stonefruit and citrus.
Carmelo Vraca is the third generation in the business with his father and grandfather originally growing tomatoes.
Citrus can provide good returns, but Carmelo explains the area around Murchison and Toolamba is not a traditional citrus growing area. Carmello says that “lemons and limes are very sensitive to frost, and during winter it just gets too cold here so you need frost fans to be able to grow fruit”.
The move into citrus growing came around ten years ago and the trees have been protected by FrostBoss™ fans since coming into production. Carmelo prefers fans over using water for frost protection because sprinkler lines can freeze.
Whilst stonefruit requires winter chilling hours to prolong dormancy, spring frosts cause damage to flowers and fruitlets and can severely reduce yields. Stonefruit at the small green fruit stage are more susceptible to frost damage than the blossoms.
Carmelo recalls the days when they used to burn hay - but that was expensive, proved to have no real effect, and you can’t do that nowadays due to the pollution it created.
From left to right: Skinder Kaso, Ben Daking (Australian Frost Fans) and Alex Kaso.
Kaso Orchards in Coomboona is a family business growing plums and apples.
The Kasos have been on the 200 acres (80 hectare) property since 1959. Today the business is run by brothers Alex and Skinder Kaso and with Skinder’s son now in the business, there’s three generations involved.
They use high density trellis planting techniques with three branches either side to allow good light penetration.
Three earlier model FrostBoss™ fans protect their crops, which they plan to upgrade with the more efficient composite blades this year as well as buying two new FrostBoss™ C49 machines for a new block of land. Construction of a new shed is also in their plans for additional storage.
In addition to the peace of mind the fans provide, they improve the quality of the fruit. “We see less scarring on the plums” says Alex. “Having fruit downgraded can halve the price you get so it’s a big impact.”
Alex and Skinder pride themselves on quality. “We’re fussy packers and want to maintain a reputation for quality to protect our name.”
Before they had the fans, Alex recalls the 2006 frost which burnt off the plums and lost a lot of apples.
“Water sprinkling isn’t an option because it would use too much water”, explains Alex. They could easily use 10% of their annual water right for frost protection and they say that’s just too much, particularly when it’s being applied at a time of year when the water is not helping growth as well.
The risk around water security also appears to be increasing. There’s a lot more uncertainty around water allocation as a percentage of your water rights and, if you need more, prices on the open market have skyrocketed.
Kaso Orchards plums are packed through until late April. Export markets include Hong Kong and Thailand.
Mick Rouget (left) and Simon Rouget, Koala Country Orchards.
Koala Cherries is based in Yarck, in north east Victoria. Today, cousins Michael (Mick) and Simon Rouget own and operate this third generation cherry growing, packing and marketing business. They farm more than 200 hectares of cherries across three locations: Cobram, Yarck/Alexandra and Strathbogie.
Their packing shed at Yarck employs around 150 staff when grading and packing both their own produce and contract packing for other growers.
We asked Simon to define success and their major risks to achieving it. “With cherry growing it’s all about minimising risk”. He explains the key metrics around profitability come back to yield, fruit size, pack out and price. Talking with Simon it’s clear they have identified their key risks. Spring frost, poor pollination weather during bloom, access to irrigation water, pests and disease, and too much rain at harvest time are their largest risks in producing cherries. “Remove risk where you can”.
Koala Cherries supplies Coles supermarkets, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane wholesale markets and a number of export markets demanding high standards. “Our aim is to supply premium cherries every week of the cherry season.”
Cherries are most susceptible to frost injury during the period between bud swell and shuck fall. Blossoms and small green fruit are susceptible even to a light frost. At bloom time cherry blossoms can only withstand temperatures of -2°C for half an hour. Nearly all flowers are killed at -4°C.
“It’s a fine line between too cold and OK”, continues Simon. “A light frost can cause the skin to crack which later manifests itself as a scar. Cherries are a pretty risky crop. Without frost protection on some of our blocks, the risk would be too high. I would say 90 percent of the time, fans will save your crop.”
Mick is involved with the Cherry Growers Association and is a national representative on the export working group helping to maximise access to overseas markets. Mick and Simon regularly travel overseas to investigate new methods and varieties. You can learn a lot traveling, sometimes it’s just as important to learn what not to do as well. “Frost fans are very common in some regions we visit in the US.”
Koala Cherries has a shed door retail outlet offering fresh cherries, preserves and cherry gifts and is open from 9am – 5pm, 7 days a week during the cherry season. For more details go to www.kco.com.au
John Ventre (right) pictured with Ben Daking from Australian Frost Fans.
JV Orchards started 25 years ago when brothers John and Jo Ventre bought their first orchard in 1992. Today, JV Orchards grow lemons, pears and stonefruit across three locations around Cobram.
Oranges were being grown when they bought the block at Singapore Road. Fifteen years ago, they replanted in stone fruit and lucerne. Not long after the lucerne was replaced with lemon trees.
Before the days of lemons, they used to protect the stone fruit from frosts with water irrigation but John says that “wouldn’t have been enough to save the lemons. Over 2015-16, we had some cracker frosts. The fans saved us.”
JV Orchards have four FrostBoss™ C49 fans protecting their crops, two on lemons and the others on stonefruit and pears. “One fan on our lemon orchard protects a colder gully and has done a power of work this last winter clocking 180 hours.”
Because of the frost fans, JV Orchards are able to grow their lemons using the open vase system. This allows greater light penetration into the tree and the fruit develops on the outside of the tree making it easier to pick. With the trees more exposed using this system, frost fan protection becomes even more critical.
It’s not just the lemons though. John says a good frost on the pears at the wrong time causes ring marks on the skin. “We used to get that before we had the fans”, says John.
With frost fans making it viable to grow lemons, “it’s been good for us. Lemons provide cashflow through the winter months and the combination of lemons, pears and stonefruit means we’re picking most of the year providing consistent work for our pickers and packers.”
Citrus fruit protected by FrostBoss™ C49 fans at Mowbray
Diaco Fresh grow citrus, stonefruit and pome fruit across four locations in Cobram and Berrigan, Victoria and NSW. They have recently completed construction of a new state-of-the-art packing shed facility in Cobram with an impressive 92m x 109m footprint and supply Woolworths under the Sun Country Fresh label.
Diaco Fresh bought the Mowbray block from a potato grower in 2009 and first planted it with oranges, mandarins and lemons two years later. Angelo Diaco explains how they worked closely with Australian Frost Fans on the project from the start. “Twenty Data loggers were used during the winter of those two years to capture night-time temperatures so we really understood what was going on – both at ground level and at 9 metres (from where the frost fans draw their air).”
A severe winter frost will kill a juvenile citrus tree. With this in mind (and armed with the data logging information collected over the previous two winters), the first installation of six fans was strategically placed to protect juvenile trees in the coldest sections of the property.
Two years later, another three machines were installed to extend the protection over trees which were expected to produce fruit for harvest. “We’ve now got nine FrostBoss™ C49 fans at Mowbray with more going in this year to protect the orchard as it comes into production. Out at Mowbray, the fans did their job running for over 100 hours last winter to prevent frost injury on the citrus. The previous season, when it was colder, some machines clocked up 270 hours.”
Angelo recalls the major frosts of 2007-8 and 1998 when they had consecutive mornings of -8°C. That year they lost their lemon crop but managed to save the trees.
“If it wasn’t for putting in the frost fans we would have lost not only the fruit but many entire trees. Two nights in a row at -8°C still saw us lose much of the crop – even with frost fans running – but the trees were spared and the following year we harvested a full crop. Prior to installing the fans, severe winter frosts would see trees taking three or more years to return to full production.
Frost fans are an insurance policy. By saving the trees and giving us a full crop that second year, they paid for themselves straightaway,” explains Angelo.
They tried to use water prior to installing fans. But for citrus, “it just doesn’t work in the middle of winter because the sprinklers freeze.”
Growing stonefruit provides many challenges. “This season crop yields and prices are down after a mild winter with not enough chill hours on the stonefruit or apples. We’re happy that the frost fans on our stonefruit, however, made sure that the smaller volume of fruit that did develop was well protected through the spring.”
Next up, Diaco Fresh are looking at growing avocados and maybe persimmons. Both are susceptible to frost injury with one grower in nearby Barooga losing more than 85 per cent of his persimmon crop when temperatures dropped to below zero in mid-October 2013. “If we go down that track, we’ll be needing more frost fans”, says Angelo.
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