30/09/2003 - 22:00

New project uses superdense trees

30/09/2003 - 22:00

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A MAJOR olive grove being established near Gingin is breaking new ground for the local industry by using ‘superdense’ tree plantings.

A MAJOR olive grove being established near Gingin is breaking new ground for the local industry by using ‘superdense’ tree plantings.

The new privately funded grove, known as the ‘old heritage farm’ project, will initially plant about 51,000 trees on an area of 51 hectares.

The density of 1,000 trees/ha is double that of most investor driven olive projects and nearly four times the density of most privately funded groves.

Project manager Nigel Thompson of Earth & Water said the grove would use the FS17 variety, a relation of Frantoio olives.

FS17 has been specially hybridised for super dense planting and, as a result, the grove would not have to be thinned as the trees matured.

Mr Thompson said super dense planting would enable the project to reduce labour costs in harvesting as well as overall maintenance costs.

The project intended to use a standard grape harvester, in contrast to the overhead straddle harvesters that other growers are starting to use.

He added that a further 80ha would be planted next year, taking the total project size to about 130ha.

The ‘super dense’ grove contrasts with traditional olive groves, which have about 250 trees/ha.

Fini Olives, backed by the Fini family, and Olive West, backed by the Tana family, have opted for this density.

Fini Olives managing director Tony Fini said he had trialled high-density plantings but opted for the traditional approach because it had a “good track record”.

Beaming Hill, a large privately owned olive grove about 100km east of Perth near Beverley, has also opted for low-density planting.

Of the big investor-driven olive projects, the only one with low-density planting is the Frankland River Olive Company.

Managing director David Carr said this would maximise the yield when the trees were mature.

In contrast, the big investor-driven projects in the Moore River region have all opted for high-density groves.

Larenta Olives and Koorian Olives have about 500 trees/ha, Olea Australis has 555 trees/ha and Guilderton Olives has 630 trees/ha.

The key advantage of high-density plantings is that the harvest, and therefore the project income, is substantially higher in the early years when the trees are smaller.

It also means that irrigation and fertilisation is more efficient in the early years of the project.

The downside is that the trees need to be thinned as they mature.

Larenta Olives managing director Trevor Coward said Larenta intended to thin its groves.

“We will selectively thin the grove so the canopy volume remains the same,” he said, adding that the cost of thinning was “not substantial” and was just one aspect of managing the groves.

“You can’t overstate the importance of the management regime. The watering, the fertiliser, pruning, pest management, weed control, all of these things at the end of the day determine your oil yield per hectare.”

Olea Australis managing director Geoff Newing said he had an open mind about the need for thinning.

“We may have to do that,” Mr Newing said.

“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion. We will do what gives us the highest commercial return.”

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