The Hickson family orchards have been growing kiwifruit since 1980.
Originally the family business included dairy farming before concentrating on kiwifruit. Husband and wife team Andre and Helen Hickson’s orchard covers 15 hectares and Andre’s brother also owns a kiwifruit orchard next door. Between them they have three FrostBoss® C49 machines protecting the vines.
With his laptop beside him there’s not much Andre cannot tell us about the factors that made each season good, bad or indifferent. As we discuss the factors which have influenced harvest yields and orchard gate returns over the years, as well as the broader industry, it’s immediately evident as to why Andre was elected to the New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers (NZKGI) executive with responsibility for performance and education.
Andre turns his laptop towards me to show what can happen when you have no frost protection and get hit. After the orchards were frosted in September 2002, the yield (trays/hectare) plummeted 80% on the prior year. The following year they put in a pond and pipelines for irrigation and frost protection. In 2007, the first frost fans were installed.
When we caught up with Andre in May 2017, they had just finished their 34th harvest and earlier in the week the fans had run for several hours on three consecutive nights.
Andre explains “at this time of year we’re trying to keep the leaves on until we’ve done a post-harvest spray to protect the vines from Psa-V. Maintaining the leaf quality also supports next year’s buds and is preferential for plant nutrient retention to maximise dry matter.”
Dry matter (DM) is a measure used to calculate the ratio of dry to fresh weight – the higher the dry matter the better the taste. Dry matter reflects the amount of carbohydrates in the fruit and is one of the measures of taste developed from market research undertaken by Zespri. The Taste Zespri Grade (TZG) was introduced in 2001 with the objective to produce the best tasting kiwifruit in each segment (Green, Gold, Red) and for this superior taste experience to be consistently delivered to the consumer.
The orchards are managed by EHC Orchard Management and the fruit supplied to Zespri through Trevelyan’s and DMS.
Looking to the future, the Hicksons have another 6 hectares from the original dairy farm they could develop for kiwifruit and they’re looking at another fan for Andre’s brother’s orchard.
“It’ll work out more cost effective than putting in water and it’s good to keep the water off – Psa likes cold and damp conditions”, says Andre.