Change in pruning technique leads to bumper kiwifruit crops in Pemberton

Main Image: Delroy Orchards manager Jamie Collins. Credit: Victoria_Baker/Pictures: Victoria_Baker, Victoria_Baker

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WA’s biggest kiwifruit orchard has doubled its production in the past four years after a foray into new pruning practices paid off.

More than 4 million pieces are anticipated to come off the vines at Pemberton’s Delroy Orchards — which Russell Delroy established in 1988 — this harvest.

It comes after new techniques were implemented on the 9.4ha orchard four years ago when Mr Delroy — a pioneer of the industry — noticed declining yields and increases in production costs as a result of the ageing 33-year-old vines.

Four years ago, orchard manager Jamie Collins was tasked with the challenge of “reinvigorating” the 10,675 vines.

Kiwifruit at Pemberton's Delroy Orchard.
Camera IconKiwifruit at Pemberton's Delroy Orchard.

During winter pruning, they decided to cut more old wood back than previously, nurturing new growth on the orchard’s 25km of vines over spring and summer — and it led to their best season ever.

“We’re probably spending the same amount of time pruning as we were before,” Mr Collins said.

“But we were keeping a lot of the older wood. We’re just cutting it right out now. We’re trying to get more space in summer and get more sunlight in.

The more sunlight you have, the more bud swell — the more likely that a bud is going to produce a fruit.

Jamie Collins
Picker Joss Legrand and orchard manager Jamie Collins at Delroy Orchards.
Camera IconPicker Joss Legrand and orchard manager Jamie Collins at Delroy Orchards. Credit: Victoria_Baker/Victoria Baker Photographer

They have also opted to vine-ripen their fruit — 90 per cent of which is sold in WA — picking on demand for orders, rather than picking at once and storing it in a coolroom.

“Traditionally it’s picked and put in a coolroom to store it,” Mr Collins said.

“We keep it on the tree as long as possible because the longer it’s on there, the more sugar you get into the fruit.”

Kiwifruit pickers France Gras-Tachon and Joss Legrand at Delroy Orchard.
Camera IconKiwifruit pickers France Gras-Tachon and Joss Legrand at Delroy Orchard. Credit: Victoria_Baker/Victoria_Baker

The past three years’ bumper yields have cemented the value of the new techniques for the fruits’ production, grown pesticide-free, with pollination aided by 800 beehives.

“It has been a challenge ... but the results are incredible,” Mr Collins said.

“It does make us really confident in what we’re doing.

We’ve doubled declining yields and continually improving our picking practices by vine ripening has seen an amazing quality improvement in flavour and sweetness.

Jamie Collins

“Being locally grown means we offer fresher fruit that has not been stored. Fruit is picked ripe and in store quickly.”