Tim Arnold, Pyap Produce

Pyap can focus on higher returns from premium fruit and 30% water savings.

It was an ambitious plan to save water – and achieve a better price for their fruit – that prompted the Arnold brothers of Pyap to investigate netting as an on-farm innovation.

After purchasing the family citrus orchard from their retiring parents in 2015, Ryan, Michael, and Tim were keen to put their stamp on the 100-hectare property, located about 260 kilometres north-east of Adelaide.

“Data from our packing shed was showing us that a lot of the fruit in Class Two wasn’t even paying its way to be picked, as a result of wind blemish,” Tim said.

“At the time, the difference between Class One fruit per tonne and Class Two fruit was around $800.”

Finding a way to protect the fruit while it was the size of between a marble and a golf ball, when it could be easily scarred, became a priority for the brothers.

“If a tree gets blown by the wind, it doesn’t take much of a rub for that fruit to be damaged. It means the fruit grows with a scar that will knock it down from a Class One to a Two, and the price drops dramatically with that downgrade,” he said.

An idea to improve fruit quality and price surprisingly results in water savings

“That’s where the netting idea came to us.”

A farm visit to Victoria’s Sunraysia region convinced them of the quality benefits from netting orchards. But they also learnt of the potential water savings. As wind speed declines so does evapotranspiration – the movement of water within a plant and the subsequent loss of water as vapor through stomata in its leaves.

“By halving wind speed we realised we could achieve water savings of around 30 per cent, while improving quality.”

The brothers successfully applied for a $1.4 million grant in Round One and a $1.3 million grant in Round Four of the South Australian River Murray Sustainability program (SARMS), which supports the sustainability of South Australian River Murray communities through investment in irrigation efficiency, water returns and irrigation industry assistance.

Netted orchards are delivering big yields

They became one of the Riverland’s first netted orchards, and could not be happier with what they’ve achieved, with their 20-hectare site of oranges and mandarins now flourishing safely under cover.

“They were quite young plantings when we started off in 2015 but they’re delivering big yields, 50 to 65 tonnes per hectare year on year, which is quite unusual,” said Tim.

“Usually you’ll have a year on and a year off for the big crops but the big yields are being sustained annually so we’ve needed to hire more pickers for the fruit.

“The quality of the fruit from the yields we’re achieving and the water savings have exceeded our expectations plus we’re returning more value from the water we use.”