15 February 2019
Developing an avocado orchard has been an enjoyable journey for Sandy and Franz Imlig. They first started working their bare 12.5 hectare block on the Kaimai foothills in 1998 while working in Galatea. “We did electrical contracting during the week and came here every second weekend for seventeen years”. They finally moved onto their orchard seven years ago.
Today they have 480 mature Hass trees and 220 young trees on their original block and more trees up the road. Springfield Orchard receives up to 2,500mm of rain each year. Despite the free draining allophanic soil, they needed to construct six large soak holes and contouring to manage storm run-off.
The cooler conditions can provide a competitive advantage. Flowering occurs later in more settled weather and harvest is also later. “Holding avocados on the trees longer helps supply Australian markets which are crying out for fruit in January and late summer,” says Sandy.
Another challenge has been to even out yield fluctuations between seasons. Rigorous pruning gets the trees to a more practicable height, improves sunlight and accessibility, pest management and harvest reliability.
Sandy and Franz purchased a fertiliser spreader to save time but it used more fertiliser than necessary. They returned to hand spreading which also reduced soil compaction. They are now using a fertigation system so the trees receive nutrients ‘little and often’. Annual soil and plant testing, guide their nutrient applications.
They poisoned self-seeded pines in a bush protection area and now see the bush regenerating. Native seedlings are being planted out in autumn. “We back onto the Omanawa Gorge and plant natives along the edge to encourage birdlife. We now see a lot more kereru, bellbirds and tui,” says Franz.
The Imligs are trialling crushed, recycled wall-board as a source of gypsum to suppress phytophthora. “It’s cheaper and more sustainable to re-use an unwanted product.” Chemical containers and fertiliser bags are also returned to suppliers for recycling.
Their son, Simon flies a drone over the orchard to check tree health from the air. “This helps us identify any problems for individual trees, rather than applying blanket solutions.”
Sandy and Franz have achieved an enviable lifestyle. “Our children tell us to take some time off but we totally love what we do and enjoy working together. We’re still evolving, looking for ways to do things more sustainably.”
Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award
Predator Free Farm Award
Waterforce Integrated Management Award