Figs (Ficus carica)

How well established is this crop?

Initial trial plantings of these crops may have been done. There is little information on plant suitability to the region and no current information on markets, commercial returns or current research. This is a new crop.

Background

Fig cultivation started in the Mediterranean over 4000 years ago. Since that time it has spread and is now grown in countries as diverse as Italy, Turkey, California, Argentina and Australia. Recently commercial plantings have even spread to New Zealand even though the fruit has been in home gardens since the early settlers.

There are a number of different types of figs but only the Common and San Pedro figs are grown commercially. Each of these types has a number of cultivated varieties. Figs are an interesting crop as they have a very short shelf life after harvest. They must be sold immediately, dried or further processed after picking. A fresh export industry is difficult to establish because of this.

Climate

Figs are suited to warm dry climates. There centre of genetic origin is Western Asia, an area warmer than Otago, but breeding programs have developed cultivars that will suit this climate. Generally a site with at least 900 GDDs will be suitable. Areas with warm climates further north may see 2 or 3 crps harvested per season. In Otago 1 crop per season is the norm, with 2 possible in a very warm year.

Winter Chilling and Frosts

Evidence suggests that some low levels of winter chilling will help a fig tree set fruit.

Mature trees are able to stand sub-zero temperatures in the winter but frosts when the plants are growing will kill off the foliage and may result in plant death.

Rainfall and Irrigation

A regular water supply is recommended if natural rainfall is not sufficient during the growing season. This will ensure good sized fruit at harvest.

During the harvest period rainfall is not desirable as it can split the fruit making them un-saleable at market. (Multiple crops put into harvest section and harvests can occur during a warm season).

Wind

Although tolerant of most winds, Fig leaves and fruit can be damaged if blocks are not sheltered. A good rule of thumb when designing shelter is to multiply the final height of the shelter by 10. Use that measurement as the distance you position your shelters apart. For example, when using a 10m high tree species for shelter, you will need shelters every 100m.

Make sure the shelters running east-west are deciduous. This will allow sunlight into the blocks in the winter. Position all shelters at right angles to the prevailing winds. Talk to your local nursery when deciding on the right tree type for your property. They may also be able to help with design

Soil

Fig trees are surface rooting. They do not like wet soils for any length of time. Drainage is recommended before planting if there is any chance that this will occur. The trees are vigorous and will grow exceptionally well in a good quality deep soil.

Fertility

Fig trees like good levels of fertility in the soil. They prefer a pH of around 6-6.5.

Weed Control

Weed control is essential under the developing trees. Grass in the rows is usually mowed. Be very careful if you are thinking of grazing between the trees. Sheep may eat the bark from around fig trees. This kills the tree by ring-barking it.

Varieties

A range of very site specific varieties exists. Discuss the latest information with the people listed in the Contacts Section at the end of this datasheet.

Pests and Diseases

Overseas experience suggests that Figs are susceptible to a root nematode and a fungal disease of the foliage. It is unknown if these organisms are present on New Zealand figs. The only reported problem on Figs currently, comes from bird predation as the crop matures. Nets are recomended to prevent this problem.

Layout

Figs grow into a medium sized tree and should be planted 4-5m apart. After planting they should be cut back to ensure lateral branches develop.

General Management

Because Figs require pruning, harvesting etc. they are best planted on a flat or gently sloping site. In Otago conditions a slightly north facing slope would be ideal to maximise the amount of heat the trees receive. After planting the trees will need regular irrigation if natural rainfall is not sufficient to keep the plant actively growing.

Harvest

Figs are ready to be harvested in Otago from February onwards. They must carefully be picked from the tree and transported back to a packing/processing facility as soon as possible. The short shelf life means sales to restaurants are possible but further processing, drying, canning, making fruit jams and pickles, adds the maximum amount of value to any product.

Equipment

Because of the area taken up with a fig orchard most growers have a tractor for weed-spraying and cutting the grass. As the trees do not seem to need any form of insecticide or fungicide, this is enough machinery. Pruners and loppers are needed when shaping trees.

Returns

Because this is a very new industry it is hard to give good financial information. Further processing into various products seem to be the best way to maximise returns.

Contacts

If you are considering growing figs contact the Cromwell New Crops Centre in McNulty Rd Cromwell or phone 03 445 1631

Contact your local branch of the New Zealand Tree Croppers for the addresses of growers and nurseries. www.treecrops.org.nz

For fertility information
http://www.hortnet.co.nz/publications/guides/fertmanual/figs.htm