Retractable roof bears fruit at orchard
The last few years have been pretty good weather-wise but in previous years Kevin Paulin and his family have lost up to 70 per cent of their cherry crop thanks to heavy rain at just the wrong time of year.
Eighteen months ago they invested in what was a first in New Zealand when they bought a Cravo retractable-roof greenhouse.
They put a second one in 12 months later. Over the years the Paulin family has played around with different ways to protect their crops and like most orchardists have worked with plastic covering.
It takes care of many of the elements such as wind damage, hail and frost as well as reducing the water damage but as Kevin explains “the water damage from the rain isn’t limited to the fruit. The water uptake from leaves and roots can still cause damage so this new system brings that right down as well.
“The Cravo retractable roof system comes in a variety of shapes and sizes from a Canadian company who’ve been making them for forty plus years. “It’s basically like a giant meccano set,” says Kevin.
“It’s a steel and wire structure with retractable plastic covers driven by motors. The roof and the walls have eight motors apiece all able to be independently operated with computer software from your phone.” They set their parameters based on temperature, windspeed and humidity and the software does the rest.
“So depending on the time of year and the crop you might have the roof opening to 10 per cent whereas on a nice sunny day it’ll be open like a normal environment. If a cold wind comes up it’ll close up to give protection and the whole thing is done automatically.” Each shed takes six months to construct with the first one finished being planted in 4500 trees last September.
“It covers three hectares so that’s a lot of cable and nuts and bolts and screws and plastic tips. It takes between 15 and 20 people working on it for four to five months.” The second 3.5 hectare shed was recently planted in 5500 trees. It’s a serious investment that the Paulins expect to take three to four years to start really paying off .
The Clyde Orchards are a third generation family operation now run by Kevin and his brother Ray some 100 years after it was started by their grand-father. Based just south of Clyde their operation is split over two holdings with half their orchards in Bannockburn.
Around 45% of their production is cherries with another 30% being flat peaches. “We’re probably the only ones growing them in New Zealand but they’re common in Europe.
They’re shaped a bit like a doughnut so they’re easy to pack in the kid’s lunch boxes plus they’re nice to eat with a high sugar content.” The balance of their crops are standard peaches, apricots and nectarines, but it’s the cherries that they’re investing heavily in for now.
While the Paulins see the export market as the key to their success they also grow some of the more traditional varieties of cherry such as lapin and rainier which we don’t usually see in the shops until after Christmas.
“Some crops come in mid-December anyway in time for that strong domestic lead-up to Christmas but if we can bring these other crops in as well that gives us more options both domestically and for export,” says Kevin.
They’re growing some new varieties of early cropping cherries which should be good for export and with the retractable roof they hope to manipulate the climate to a certain degree.
“We think we’ll be able to harvest the crop two or three weeks earlier. That means we extend our growing season and we utilize our packhouse facility for an extra three weeks a year. It gives us the opportunity to utilize our staff earlier in the year which allows us to secure staff early on and keep them for the whole season. So there’s a lot of advantages to starting before everybody else.”
They’ve got a little bit of fruit on the trees they planted last year. Enough, they hope, to get a look at the maturity date, an idea of the quality, and maybe a reaction from the market place.
“It’ll be another year before we pick our first real crop,” says Kevin, “and in years to come if the crops do what we hope they’re going to do I’m looking forward to being able to lie in bed and listen to the rain on the roof and not be worried.”
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