An innovative trial and research project in Cobram run by local company InSense aims to help local fruit growers increase their crop yields by increasing the chill accumulation in trees.
The feasibility study will determine if spraying cherry, apple and almond trees with calcium carbonate at leaf fall increases winter chill accumulation by reflecting heat from the fruit buds in winter.
The project received a $49000 boost from the Victorian Government’s Horticulture Innovation Fund, announced by Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford in State Parliament last Wednesday.
Also announced was a $50000 grant to the Cobram and District Fruit Growers Association to better manage Queensland fruit fly and reduce its impact on crops.
InSense’s Russell Fox said the trial was based on a similar substance which helped protect trees in hot summer months.
‘‘We do a calcium carbonate product in the summer to protect the fruit, which reflects the sun rays and UV rays off the fruit,’’ Mr Fox said.
‘‘We know climate change is having an effect on the weather, so this trial will investigate how to help counteract that and lock in the chill for the fruit.’’
The trial ran last year on three different local orchards, and is currently focused on cherry, almond and apple crops.
Mr Fox said all three varieties relied on chill periods during winter for the trees to bud properly in spring.
‘‘The trial will be a calcium carbonate product, sprayed on the trees at leaf fall or just before, to help the trees seal in the winter chill,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ll be monitoring the effect it has in the spring, from the first bud burst right through to harvest.
‘‘We’ll also be looking at the yield — in both quality and quantity — to see what effect it has on the overall crop and how we can maximise that for farmers.’’
In previous years, winters have been milder, and Mr Fox said the calcium carbonate spray could help trees maximise the cooler temperatures in a changing climate.
He said as well as chill periods, trees then required warmer spring temperatures, and this study would also be investigating the two temperature phases.
The trial will also test temperatures in different blocks across the three orchards.
Mr Fox said the funding was a great opportunity to continue the trial and study in the next two years to determine if it could be used on a wider scale.
‘‘I really appreciate the funding from the Horticulture Innovation Fund, it will allow me to continue to conduct the study and it’s created a great opportunity.’’
Ms Pulford said the Horticulture Innovation Fund supported businesses to innovate and work with researchers to test and adapt new technologies to local conditions.
‘‘This is great news for the Goulburn Valley and will boost our surging horticulture exports even further,’’ she said.
‘‘Victoria accounts for more than half of Australia’s horticulture exports and investing in this sector will help safeguard it for the future.’’
State Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes said the feasibility study by InSense would be a driver in increasing the productivity of cherry, apple and almond trees, and in turn, future-proofing them against the effects of climate change.
The funding for the Cobram and District Fruit Growers Association will be used to implement a local grid in the Cobram fruit growing area to provide substantive evidence that the current practice of fruit fly management methods are successful.
Importantly, the evidence can also be used to validate export trade requirements.
Ms Pulford said the project could change and improve the management of this pest across the state and the country.
‘‘Effective management of Queensland fruit fly will improve the quality of fruit and increase demand for Goulburn Valley produce,’’ she said.
Ms Symes said the funding would go a long way to managing the impacts of Queensland fruit fly in the heart of the Goulburn Valley, which is crucial for the booming horticulture exports in the region.