Rain covers, dwarf root stock, driverless tractors, drones
and UFOs are the way forward for New Zealand's fruit growers
in the next 10 to 15 years, Michigan State University's
horticultural professor, Dr Greg Lang says.
Dr Lang specialises in cherry production and was a keynote
speaker for the Summerfruit New Zealand conference, which was
held in Central Otago earlier this month.
Dr Lang was delighted to be back in New Zealand as he had
spent about six months here on a sabbatical about 10 years
''I have seen a lot of old faces, and have been bringing them
[growers] up to speed with what we have been doing,'' Dr Lang
''The organisers asked me to look out to about 10 to 15 years
''What would cherry trees look like and what technology would
He said cherry production had changed dramatically in the
past 25 years and plantings continued to increase world-wide
as demand and new technology made them less risky to grow.
He said dwarf root stock meant shorter trees, which made
harvesting easier, with some varieties fruiting earlier.
UFOs (Upright Fruiting Offshoots) or fruiting walls or
hedgerows, would also make harvesting easier as trees were
grown along wires, similar to grape vines, he said.
Pickers could access the fruit more easily, and the design
also encouraged a narrower canopy and better light
distribution, with increased uniformity of fruit.
''There is less cost for pruning and picking and it is easier
to put covers over to protect them from the rain.''
Increased mechanisation would reduce labour costs, and future
growers would require fewer workers for the menial tasks.
There would be driverless tractors, as well as robots and
drones that would have vision sensors, which would identify
fruit that was ready to harvest, or had rot or blemishes.
''Labour can be quite short during harvest time and workers
will prefer to go to an orchard where it is easier to pick.
''If robots take over some of the menial tasks out of fruit
production, there will be fewer people to pay but growers
will be able to pay them a better wage.''
Drones can chase birds away from the trees and identify
diseases or insect infestation, water requirements and
Climate control, using high-roofed tunnel houses, could also
add extra value out of the orchard by shifting ripening times
to meet the Christmas market, or extend the end of the
''The New Zealand industry will continue to reap benefits of
adopting new technology and continuing to maintain their high
He said Chile produced one of the highest tonnages of cherry
crops in the world and what it did in the market affected New
However, he said New Zealand did have an advantage.
There was a strong and growing demand for cherries in the
South East Asian markets, and while Chile took six weeks to
ship its product to those markets, New Zealand was able to
send high quality fruit there in only a day or two.
''New Zealand needs to do anything it can to maintain its
''Consumers will pay very good money for very good
cherries,'' Dr Lang said.