Visiting Ian Graham – Persimmon and Brussel Sprout Grower

Sheryl: I was invited to attend the Persimmon Growers annual meeting and below is the write-up which hopefully will be continued…just need to locate the other cassette tape!
Ian Initially I set up here in 1984 and put the first fruit on the market in 1988. I just had a small block of Fuyus down by the creek – pity we didn’t get the same returns now as what we got then because I can remember averaging $14.00 per tray in the early 90’s. I think I got $2-4 a tray in 1988 until the agent I had in Sydney which I’ve still got, developed basically his Korean clientele which we’re still servicing. I planted about 1500 Fuyu and they’ve been gone for some time – I haven’t got any Fuyu on the place so that’s what I think of them! And that’s what the agent thought of them! Now it’s all Jiros except for 440 Izu and the thing they do is act as a trap crop for the Fruit Fly, the Clear Wing Moth and the flood! We had 3 metres of water down the bottom of the property. I spent a bit of time thinking whether I’d stand the trellises up or come in with a bull dozer and get rid of the rest of them but I decided to stand them up but if another flood washes them over, that’s where they’ll stay! The Jiros in this block were planted in 1998 – dryland although once I irrigated them by running spray lines through when they were 4 or 5 years old and they had a crop on them. I think we’ve had one season where I think we lost out badly because they were dryland. Rainfall is around 40-45 inches although we have the odd year where we get 90 inches but by mulching and keeping our weeds under control, the only thing that worries me now is that if we don’t get rain in the next month or so, it means I can’t spray with the orchard blaster because the mulch hasn’t settled down and it’s still dry but I’ve never been caught for too long. The other issue is that fertiliser has gone on and we’ve had no rain since but my idea with Persimmons is not to fertilise them very much and we only fertilise every 2nd year with about 400kg per hectare of Nitrophoska plus this year we put on Gypsum but my idea of keeping nitrogen levels down is to get calcium up. We’re finding with all the crops we grow there’s a direct correlation between nitrogen and calcium. Nitrogen down; calcium up. We’ve got Brussels Sprouts over there now and we haven’t put any calcium on at all this year and 10 years ago we were pouring calcium on and the only difference is that we’ve dropped our nitrogen level and dropped their vigour obviously but there’s a balance there somewhere.
Sheryl: Why don’t you irrigate?
Ian: I simply refuse to water young trees. Let their root system develop. Under that system, those young trees will have roots out into the roadway already. Let them fight their way! We’ve replaced 6 trees in the whole block and I don’t think it would have been lack of water. Under dryland farming, they’ve cropped heavily every year since 2002. There’s always a difference in butt size – whether it’s a rootstock issue or a graft issue or incompatibility issue – I’m not too sure.
Member: How are you going with Clear Wing Moth:
Ian: It’s only in the last couple of years that they seem to have started worrying some of the Jiros. This is only the 2nd year that we have painted the big cuts after we’ve applied about 4mls per litre of Lorsban. It’s specific to the big cuts because that’s where you get all your water shoots from and we seem to be getting pretty good control. We ‘re not to the stage yet where we are with the Izu where we go back through them in January and try and scratch out all the moths out plus all the rest of the grubs out. Sometimes you’ll see Clear Wing Moth in all the prunings. We throw out the prunings in the centre and just run over them with the 5 foot slasher – even the fairly big bits of timber so I don’t think too many grubs would survive that. I’d prefer to buy a mulcher but you can’t buy a narrow mulcher that is heavy duty enough.
Member: Are you using any Pheromones?
Ian: I haven’t used Pheromones for years. We used them when we had the Fuyu. With Fruit Fly we do use Amulets at double the rate.
Member: How much growth are you getting out of them by the end of summer?
Ian: Not above the crossbar. Sometimes when we do the thinning and you have four people doing the thinning, next time you come over and check to see what they are doing, there’ll be none left! It’s all or none! We do fudge it and leave it there.. We do get a bit of hail here occasionally. We still get colour in our fruit, lessen our sunburn during the sizing up period where the laterals are hanging out and they drop and expose fruit that hasn’t been exposed to the sun – we can get 39ºC. Rows run more or less north south. I didn’t buy the block specifically to grow Persimmon but slope lined up beautifully for big long rows. I have to stay awake at night when spraying as it’s 3.6km an hour. Lorikeets are a bit of an issue. I use to have Lychees and Mangoes and that’s when we did have some problems so basically I solved the problem by getting rid of other fruit crops around that attracted them. Only had a problem with Flying Fox one year but you’ll notice there are no large trees around, no eucalypts and there was a purpose in doing that because Flying Fox will perch up in the big trees but with Persimmons they can’t rip them off. I think there is a camp up in the forest but I think the only ones we get are the old ones that can’t be bothered going too far. One year when it was very showery for weeks on end we seemed to have a bit of a build up of numbers. I got one quote for $150,000 and couldn’t really see that I wouldn’t have been better off in putting it into a house in town.
Sheryl: In a recent article in the Victorian Weekly Times, Robert Blair a farmer from Idaho USA uses a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) to combat wildlife damage in his crops. His UAE also takes photographic images of his fields & looks to have a wingspan of over 2 metres.
Member: You still have some Izu. Do you think it would be an advantage to get rid of them?
Ian: I’ve thought about it but it provides a couple of weeks of extremely high prices mid to late February where if you have someone employed full time, it gives them a little bit of work but once you’ve got your Jiros, the agent doesn’t want your Izu which is understandable. I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Persimmons but the trees still have life in them – we’re getting pretty large fruit and we’re averaging around size 15-16 most years. The year before we had huge fruit and I used 800 flex trays size 10 out of a crop of 6500 and we hardly packed a 16 - 10, 13 and 15. We thin these trees to about 140 fruit and spread evenly over the tree and we’d prune about 70% - 80% of the canopy. They don’t seem to do a real significant fruit drop of their own. They do two drops and they’ll do a third after Christmas which you don’t want. It happens in cloudy overcast conditions. Interestingly enough half of this block has a row spacing of 4.25mtrs and over the other side the spacing is 3.8mtrs and the 3.8 side always drops more heavily than the 4.25 so it has to be a light issue.