If things go to plan for Batlow grower John Robson and son Ian, the 2.7-hectare block planted on Mount View last winter will yield 100 tonnes/ha with a Class 1 packout of 90 per cent when it hits full production.
The high-density planting – 10,000 tree/ha at a 4m row x 0.25m tree spacing on a V-trellis – will be suited to automation, better positioning the orchard to meet the challenges of the availability and cost of labour.
But John’s vision for what automation can make possible for industry goes way beyond simply fruit picking.
“The V-trellis system allows for fruit production by ‘numbers’,” John said. “The goal of 100 t/ha requires 10kg per tree. Assessment of the trees can be undertaken at various stages to determine fruit bud numbers, blossom counts and strength, fruitlet numbers and final fruit counts. Robotics, electronic technology and platforms will all play a part in the management of this orchard system.”
John’s passion for innovation and willingness to embrace new ideas is a constant in his fifty-year plus commitment to industry improvement, research collaboration, variety evaluation and the Batlow community which is honoured in the 2020 Lifetime Achievement award.
Throughout that time, John and his family have been supportive long-term commercial collaborators in research with both NSW DPI and CSIRO, hosting trials and evaluation sites, acting as Future Orchards focus orchard and always open to sharing knowledge and furthering industry progression.
Mr Robson is described as a quiet achiever who has always had the greater good of the industry at heart and has made many contributions to the local and broader industry over the years.
A third-generation grower, John’s orcharding career got off to a bit of a rocky start when the family orchard and farm was sold in his first year at Yanco Agricultural High School.
“Christmas Day 1956 was the worst hailstorm I can ever remember and that changed things for my family and in 1959 the farm was sold,” Mr Robson said.
He found school holiday work with Batlow orchardist Jack Faulkner. A permanent role followed and in 1968 John, his father, Jack Faulkner and Bunny Brown bought a half share of HV Smith’s Mount View (Batlow) business and set about the process of development and research collaboration that continues today.
“Our gate has always been open to researchers wanting to come in and do a project,” John said. “We have worked with a lot of people from Dept of Ag, including Lionel Boorman, Jill Campbell, Col Bower, Les Penrose, Graham Thwaite and Ron Gordon and CSIRO’s Les Readshaw.
“We gained so much working with them. A lot of work on predatory mites for the control of two spotted mite and European red mite was done. Many of the chemicals we were using were suppressing beneficial insects and our spray programs were altered and reduced to suit IPM.
“Graham Squires [Lenswood Airmist Sprayers] encouraged low volume spraying for most chemical applications. It has been standard practice for over 20 years to apply sprays at 250 L/Ha, including thinning sprays.”
The quest for improvement saw the establishment of a nursery in 1972 and of rootstock beds as soon as virus-tested material could be obtained.
Mount View was one of the inaugural members of the Australian Nurserymen’s Fruit Improvement Company (ANFIC) in 1984, established with the aim of liaising with plant breeders and nurseries around the world and sourcing new varieties of fruit for Australian growers.
International travel for ANFIC provided opportunities to find new nursery growing techniques and special purpose machinery.
Other orchard purchases and plantings followed with wife Iola and partners in Mount View, and also the establishment in 1994 of the prize-winning Flemington Limousin cattle stud near Adelong, managed by our daughter-in-law Donna and son Ian.
John has been a Director of Batlow Fruit Co-op for over 20 years and was Chairman when in 2017 it was converted to the Batlow Fruit Company Pty Ltd with financial support from Ausfarm Fresh and the unanimous support of members. He remains deputy chairman and believes the region has a great future for fruit growing, particularly in the face of climate change.
“Batlow’ is a stand-out brand and it is the cool climate that gives the Batlow district the advantage in terms of flavour and fruit quality,” he said.
“As we look to the future, it’s going to be the right varieties with quality and tonnage which will continue this advantage.”