Apricots (Prunus armeniaca)How well established is this crop?
This crop has been grown commercially in the region for at least 50 years. Commercial returns, current growers and some level of regional based research is available to help those new to this industry.Background
Apricots are a native of eastern Asia and have been grown in New Zealand for many years for domestic consumption. Exports are a important part of the business and only really began with large volumes leaving New Zealand in the 1980. The main markets for apricots are in Australia with some product going to Asia and the USA.
Until recently apricots have been available in New Zealand only during the summer months. Now with imports coming from California in our winter they are available for longer during the year.
Most areas of New Zealand that grow this type of summerfruit are characterised by cool winters, hot dry summers with plenty of sunshine hours and low humidity. The Hawkes Bay and Central Otago provide this environment perfectly. The recommended growing degree day figure is at least 800 GDD at a base of 10°C.Winter Chilling and Frosts
Apricots need a period of winter chilling to set fruit buds successfully in the spring. Literature suggest that this is at least 1000-1500 hours between 0-7 degrees C during June, July and August.
Flowering usually happens in the middle to end of September, a period that is characterised by frosts. The young fruit are susceptible to this frost and can all be killed if the temperature drops below 0 degrees C. Traditional methods such as smoke pots have been surpassed by over-head sprinkler frost fighting and in some cases wind machines.
Irrigation is essential in apricot growing districts. Most growers use a combination of under-tree mini-sprinklers for irrigation, and overhead sprinklers for frost protection. Use 1 mini-sprinkler between 2 trees, with overheads spaced 20m apart and 20m between rows, which is every 4th row.Wind
Even though apricots grow into large trees, they still benefit from some wind protection, especially when they are young. It reduces the chance of bruising on the fruit and reduces the drying effects of wind over the summer period.
Most blocks rely on natural tree shelters. 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 shelter trees that are 10m high you will need shelters 10m x 10 = every 100m.
Apricots prefer a sunny well drained soil if they are to do well. A gentle slope also brings benefits as it can cause the frosts to be less severe during the sensitive flowering period.Fertility
Apricots require reasonable levels of soil fertility as they tend to be cropped quite hard. Regular soil and foliage tests will quickly identify any deficiencies and these can be easily corrected with the addition of fertiliser. Companies such as Hills Laboratories have a datasheet with the recommended soil and leaf nutrient levels for this crop. See the ‘Contacts’ section at the end of this datasheet.Weed Control
Weed control in apricots tends to be quite straightforward. When young trees are planted, plastic spray-guards are put around the trunks. This prevents rabbit damage and allows herbicides to be sprayed right up to the tree. Weeds growing up inside these guards are removed by hand. As the trees mature the bark on the trunk hardens and herbicides can be sprayed on them with no damage to the tree.
A wide range of apricot varieties are available to the new grower. Many of these have been developed in New Zealand and more and more are being imported from overseas. Getting the variety that is suitable for your property is very important. Talk to local growers who have similar land to your block before deciding what to plant and discuss varieties with exporters as they will be selling your fruit. New late varieties now extend the season into late March.
Apricots suffer from a range of insect and fungal pathogens. Research work in Otago has shown that some diseases are difficult to manage by organic principles, leaving agrichemicals the best method of control. The insects include leafrollers, mites, thrips and scale. The disease pathogens include bacterial blast and bacterial spot, silver leaf, brown rot and a range of storage rots.
Most apricot blocks are planted on a reasonable scale and allow for tractor access between rows. This is usually 4.5 - 5.0m. Within the row spacing is usually 3m. Final tree height is anywhere from 4-5m.General Management
Ground preparation is the key to developing an apricot block. Irrigation installation and any drainage work is completed in the period before planting. Trees are delivered from the specialist nursery ‘bare-rooted,’ in bundles of approximately 10 trees. These are usually ‘heeled in’ meaning the roots are covered with soil or sawdust until they can be planted. Tree rows are usually ripped with a deep blade to free up the soil. Holes are dug and the trees planted, usually with the graft union pointing into the direction of the prevailing wind to give the tree more strength as it grows. Weed control using herbicides, mowing, spraying and irrigation are needed from this time. Some pruning and tree shaping is also done, generally in the winter. The traditional shape for a mature tree was the vase shape. However, more recently training the tree into a centre leader has become popular. It is important to seal the cuts made at pruning with a fungicide/bacterial spore killer as the trees are susceptible to infection through these wounds. Fruit is generally removed from the tree in the first two seasons to ensure as much vegetative growth as possible.
Picking is done by hand, with care being taken not to bruise the fruit. They are placed in large bins in the orchard before being taken to the packhouse for processing. To ensure fruit quality, it is vital that it is chilled as soon as possible after harvest. This ensures a good shelf life after packing.
Because most blocks of apricots are planted on a reasonable scale, a tractor is required along with spray units, mowers, forks for transporting bins and maybe a truck to get fruit to a packhouse.Returns
Returns are usually quoted on a per kilogram basis in the export and domestic markets. However it does depend on variety and the value of the $NZ at the time of sale.
In general a fully developed block should produce between 10-15/t/ha with prices ranging between $1.50-2.50/kg.
If you are thinking of growing apricots, talk to some local growers and look at the following websites.
For fertility information www.hill-laboratories.com
Industry based grower organisation www.summerfruitnz.co.nz