Wombats and Kangaroos

by Gary Mount

This past February, Pam and I traveled in New Zealand and Australia for three weeks as part of a group of apple growers attending the International Dwarf Fruit Tree Association (IDFTA)’s annual conference. This organization of fruit growers, researchers and nurseries is dedicated to promoting fruit growing on compact or “dwarf” trees. Visitors to Terhune Orchards have noticed that we have very few of the twenty foot tall apple tree behemoths left – most of our trees are planted close together and do not get more than seven feet high. I learned the techniques of growing trees this way through my association with the IDFTA. In fact, I am now its longest serving board member and chair of the research committee. This New Zealand conference marked our first meeting outside of North America and was a great success! Not only did we have attendees from North America (260), including seven from New Jersey, but also New Zealanders and Australians took the opportunity to attend. Pam and I toured orchards and nurseries, attended meetings, and even got to have a look at the America’s Cup racing. I was also thrilled to go on board a replica of the Endeavour, the ship used by my hero, Captain James Cook, in his Pacific explorations.

As far as apple growing goes, New Zealand’s growing conditions are to die for. A very long growing season, moderate temperatures (not too cold in winter, nor too hot in summer), lots of intense sunlight, little rainfall but plentiful ground water, very few insect and disease pests, and fertile, well-drained soils. We were jealous of all this and of the reported quality and quantity of production (1600 to 2000 bushel/acre). But one counterpoint to the above made us still glad to be New Jersey farmers. New Zealand’s population is quite small – 3 to 4 million and growers must export most of their crop. New Zealand is a long, costly trip from anywhere and competition in the world market is very sharp.

Part of the conference included the meeting of the Research Committee. We awarded grants totaling $60,000 for research in dwarf fruit trees. Funding for this research comes from grower members of the association. One grant will be especially interesting to New Jersey’s peach growers in that it funded research evaluating dwarf peach rootstocks – brought to the United States from other countries. This is a new development in peach growing and quite exciting to the industry. At Terhune Orchards, I have never been able to plant dwarf peach trees, only apple. The New Jersey State Horticultural Society has contributed to the research committee for many years.

After the conference, some 120 of us traveled through some of the fruit growing areas of Australia, starting with the island state of Tasmania and ending in Sydney. The whole point of touring an area so different from our own is not that we can bring all of their techniques home and use them here. Conditions are often too different. But instead it was of great interest to us to see how farmers in other areas meet the challenges of growing in their location.

In Tasmania, the fruit industry lost the entire market for its 10 million bushel crop when Great Britain joined the common market! For us it would be like closing off Cold Soil Road! Young Tasmanian growers are redirecting their crop to Asian markets – having replanted with sweeter varieties. We admired their enthusiasm.

In the Batlow area the Snowy Mountains of mainland Australia, apples grow to a quality unequaled anywhere. However, severe and frequent hailstorms threaten the profitability and continuance of the region. We were amazed at the tenacity and ingenuity of growers in erecting hail netting over large acreages.

We also saw an interesting solution to overpopulation of deer in both New Zealand and Australia. We saw thousands of acres of farms where deer are fenced in and raised for meat. Venison from “down under” is shipped all over the world. Deer have no natural predators in the two countries – something like our situation here in New Jersey. Without control, the deer population used to overrun the country.No more.

We ended our trip in Sydney. The warmth, friendliness and dynamism of the city’s population make in easy to see that this year’s Olympic games couldn’t be in a better place. Attending a performance in the Sydney Opera House and joining our tour group for a farewell dinner cruise in Sydney Harbor are memories we will have forever.

And the wombats and kangaroos? Yes, they are there–in great numbers – and all that I had read about them is true.