Future is cherry ripe for very happy family orchard

Nov. 2, 2023 | 5 Min read
Kyabram orchardists Anthony Rullo and Alexandra Milosevich see embracing innovative water saving technologies as the key to their future after establishing a 5ha cherry orchard on a property just outside of Kyabram in July 2022.

Kyabram orchardists Anthony Rullo and Alexandra Milosevich see embracing innovative water saving technologies as the key to their future after establishing a 5ha cherry orchard on a property just outside of Kyabram in July 2022.

The family business, The Happy Orchard, which includes children Xeven, Vlad and Lazar – and Alexandra’s mum Jovanka – is Australia’s first cherry orchard to implement a combination of new irrigation technology and cutting-edge regenerative farming practices for improved water management and potential drought mitigation.

Initially the business was looking to invest in a glasshouse to grow vegetables, but after hearing about this technology from a friend, Mr Rullo decided to change tack and instead invest in a long-held dream to grow cherries, as water efficiently as possible.

Kyabram orchardists Anthony Rullo and son Xeven on their recently established cherry orchard just outside of Kyabram in northern Victoria.

Implementation of the basin plan, reducing allocations, a changing water market and climatic conditions have all combined to force water efficiency to be long-term at the top of the priority list.

Confident they will be able cut water use by as much as 75 per cent, the trial plot is already using half the water compared to the conventional block.

The business has started out with a 1000-tree trial to pioneer the technology, which is based on an underground networked Hydrorock irrigation system recently trialled in the UAE.

At the heart of the system is the Hydrorock water retention block, which is made of spun stone wool that is then buried underground to store water and deliver an optimal and constant supply to the root system.

The addition of soil moisture probes and a Smart Farm Sensing remote sensing platform will monitor moisture levels and tell the family when it is time to irrigate.

The second part of the system is innovative regenerative farming practices, which include application of:

i)                 Controlled release bio-mineral fertiliser based on natural mineral ores placed underneath the root stock. The beneficial microbiology eats the non-leaching mineral fertiliser and passes the nutrients directly to the plant, promoting plant growth while reducing the need for synthetic water-soluble fertilisers.

ii)                State-of-the-art technique called regenerative hydromulching for hydroseeding ground cover onto the soils surface. This process involves spraying a mixture of Envirostraw hydromulch, combined with Hydrorock’s stone wool fibres and seed onto the soil's surface.

This first-of-a-kind biologically compatible combination not only ensures a better seed strike but also significantly enhances the soil's water retention and erosion control capabilities.

This innovation is expected to further reduce water usage and provide optimal conditions for seed germination and plant growth, while increasing soil carbon.

The business is excited to implement this technique, anticipating it will complement existing strategies, ensuring robust ground cover and enhanced soil health for the cherries.

Microbiologist and carbon farming specialist Paul Storer from Field Capacity is the brains behind the bio-mineral technology.

The bio-mineral technology is the brainchild of consultant soil microbiologist and carbon farming specialist Paul Storer, from Field Capacity.

“This regenerative agriculture approach using bio-mineral fertilisers and ground cover can be used across any form of agriculture and has already been successful growing broad acres crops including cereals and canola, in pastures, in horticulture, in vineyards and in stone fruit orchards  - this is the first time we are using it for cherries but we are not expecting any issues,” Mr Storer said.

He said the combination of these unique environmentally sustainable innovations is designed to reduce water usage under a drying climatic scenario.

“The beauty of this integrated system is it is water efficient and the plants are more resilient and nourished by beneficial microbes, which move the nutrients into the plants,” Mr Storer said.

The technology couldn’t have come at a better time for the family and they are already embracing the results from the use of microbiology and mineral fertiliser.

“We now have 7000 cherry trees planted and they are thriving – in fact they are growing so well they will probably hit our target height of 2m a lot earlier than we thought. We are actually looking into ways of slowing the system down or our trees will be enormous,” Mr Rullo laughed.

By the third year of growth the family is hoping to get between 5-10kg of fruit per tree – and around 20kg at maturity.

The harvesting season is short and will be over and done within three days.

Despite never growing cherries before, the business has embraced the challenge.

“I did work on a cherry farm and I found the cycle of cherries really interesting and fascinating.

“We are looking to grow cherries without chemicals, and conventional fertiliser to produce a high quality, nutrient rich product because the market is moving toward a healthier and sustainable product,” Mr Rullo said.

The Happy Orchard also grows 2.02ha of vegetables including snow peas, chillies, beans and watermelon and have plans of increasing their cherry acreage in the future.

Categories Cherries Pome fruit Stone Fruit

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