Science, new technologies mitigates market volatility

Science, new technologies mitigates market volatility
Murrays Nurseries is growing six million seedlings this year with a capacity of up to 10 million.

Tararua based nursery, Murrays Nurseries, has been at the forefront of developing new technologies to mitigate risk in the notoriously changing pinus radiata seedling market.
The nursery predominantly supplies high-quality radiata pine seedlings to large-scale forest owners with the seedlings grown on demand and to exacting specifications.
Company owner Patrick Murray says that the peaks and troughs of the market can be excessive – Murrays Nurseries has had annual production of from two million to seven million in the past six years.
This has led him to develop smarter and better ways of doing things including investing heavily in new technology since taking over the company, started by his parents, in 2011.
Within the next year virtually all aspects of the operation will be automated and he has had equipment specifically designed for Murrays Nurseries including seed sowing machinery with GPS for greater accuracy.
This can ensure positioning of seed down to 20mm accuracy so lines can be repeated from one year to the next.
This allows for the automation of other processes such as root pruning, topping and spraying. The results are obvious: while it took 74 hours to prepare and sow a 1.5ha block in the 1970s it now takes six hours as a single pass.
“In the past someone had to steer a tractor and someone else had to operate the machine to do this job. This could result in damage due to human error and the fact two people were doing the job.
Now it’s all automated with one person sitting in a tractor. We are working to develop other automated machinery,” he explains. Murrays Nurseries was originally established in 1961 by Patrick’s father Maurice.
He started out on the southern side of Woodville before moving the operation to family owned land on Sowry Road. Today the business incorporates 19ha of land and 10ha of leased land.
Patrick is in the process of securing a further 8.5ha of leased land to grow the business. When Patrick took over the business he focused it on radiata pines due to the fact he could secure contracts in advance rather than growing on spec. He has managed to reduce costs and increase productivity through automation.
Patrick and one full time staff member can now grow 5-7 million trees. His focus on technology has attracted the interest of SCION, a crown research institute that specialises in research, science and technology development for the forestry, wood product, wood-derived materials, and other biomaterial sectors.
SCION visited Murrays Nurseries recently to learn more about how the operation has been successfully using technology.
Patrick has also been involved with the New Zealand Dryland Forests Initiative, with almost 9,000 E bosistoana and E argophloia seedlings established at the nursery in February and November 2015 as part of a project to minimise growth strain in eucalypts to transform processing.
Patrick has also been conducting his own independent trials into reduction of use of fungicides and fertiliser, which SCION has also discovered enhances tree survival and performance in forests.

Science, new technologies mitigates market volatility
Destroying seedlings in 2010, the market effect of the Emissions Trading Scheme. Murray’s Nurseries’ onwer Patrick Murray assesses Mycorrhiza in these seedlings.

“Fertilisers and fungicides negatively affect mycorrhizal fungi – a fungus which improves the ability of a plant to uptake moisture and nutrients. While SCION has undertaken validated trials we have conducted our own nursery trials and had good feedback from clients. We believe reducing or even eliminating fungicides and fertilisers is possible.”
He says that while typically the industry has taken a preventative approach to the application of these items he has reversed this to only use fungicides when a problem occurs.
While he acknowledges this could be viewed as more risky he says three years later they have been able to completely eliminate fungicide application at Murrays Nurseries while still producing eight million seedlings in the past two seasons – something he believes to be an industry first without using fungicide.
This year he has reduced fertiliser application by 40% on the entire crop, while on a trial patch three years of using no fertiliser at all has not proved detrimental.
To determine if this result is sustainable over time he is looking at the cumulative effect on seedling growth on this trial area and indications that there is no negative effect are looking likely.
Murrays Nurseries is growing six million seedlings this year and capacity is 9-10 million. By leasing more land Patrick is targeting eventual production of 14 million.
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