As agronomist for one of the largest apple packing facilities in the southern hemisphere, Tony Kundert needs to be across the latest technology to make the production system work.
9mile Fresh, based in Tynong, Victoria, has 200 hectares of their own apple orchards, which only represents around 20 per cent of the fruit they supply to Woolworths, Coles and Aldi.
The rest of the apples come from around 50 contracted growers in Victoria’s Goulburn and Yarra Valleys as well as Tasmania and South Australia.
“As one of the largest packing facilities in the southern hemisphere, we've developed new technology, robotics, infrared technology and also computer graphic images to classify the apples and improve throughput, reduce labour and improve quality,” Mr Kundert said.
The cutting-edge packing shed is only part of the puzzle, with orchard management also a key concern.
“We need to produce apples of a very high standard and so we need to also minimise pests and diseases to a very high degree.
“The products our growers use in their spray programs have to be the highest quality and have effective results.”
Luna Sensation fungicide from Bayer was first used by 9mile in 2015 to help tackle key diseases such as apple scab, through the active ingredients fluopyram and trifloxystrobin.
“Luna Sensation provides very effective control of apple scab and more recently we've also had issues with powdery mildew.
“Because of the netting growers are using, overhead cooling has increased humidity and so disease has come to be more of an issue.
“Luna Sensation gives effective control of powdery mildew, and supresses another disease, alternaria, which has also been showing up for probably the same reasons.
“Some of the apple varieties that we're into now, such as Gala's and Pink Lady are more susceptible to alternaria, and this product gives us another avenue to help manage these pathogens.”
The success of Luna Sensation amongst the 9mile Group can perhaps be best measured, Mr Kundert said, by feedback from the growers themselves.
“I have contact with many growers and they say probably the most difficult disease they’re trying to control is powdery mildew.
“Growers were coming to me and saying compared to other products, and other products within the same group, that Luna Sensation seemed to outperform them quite dramatically and they were very happy with it.
“They used Luna Sensation again in 2016, so I guess that would be one of the best measures of why they've come back to that product.”
Key to the success of Luna Sensation is its ability to manage all three diseases, rather than multiple products being required.
“It minimises the time that growers have to spray and the chemistry that they have to use.
“In the end if you can minimize those diseases, your packout will be improved and could make a huge difference with the end result.
“We do however limit their use of Luna Sensation, or the equivalent groups, to say three sprays per season, to preserve that chemistry for a longer life span.”
Luna Sensation has also brought benefits to orchards using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) systems
“It fits well because almost all our growers are now on an IPM system and they endeavour to preserve their predatory mites and other predatory insects.
“Predatory mites are not affected by Luna, where some of the older fungicides do have a dramatic impact on them, so we're trying to move most of our growers away from the older chemistry for those reasons.
“It goes right down the line in terms of not having to use miticides in their program – they can save money by not using them and also improve the quality of their fruit in terms of colour, development and things like that.”
He said he’s particularly pleased that Luna Sensation showed persistence in what was a cool, wet 2016 season.
“It's translaminar so it holds up to higher levels of rain through those difficult releases - when we get the apple scab spore release we want to have a product that will hold up better for a longer period of time.
“You can't rely on the older chemistry as readily, however Luna Sensation has the qualities where you get a longer period where it is persistent in the plant.”