Soil ameliorant boosts waterlogged apples

Pome fruit Nov. 20, 2021

After one of the wettest eighteen months on record at Victorian apple grower Brad Fankhauser’s Drouin property, he had serious concerns for the health of his trees.

Based on previous experience, he was worried the root stress brought on by sustained wet weather could mean a significant loss of trees in affected areas of his apple orchard.

In an effort to help save the trees, Mr Fankhauser applied Serenade Prime, a soil ameliorant from Bayer, to help the trees maximise access to nutrients and other soil resources to maintain their health.

“We applied Serenade Prime several times during the spring, during that critical root growth stage, and I reckon we might have lost maybe only one per cent of the trees,” he said.

“We haven’t gone as far as comparing a treated to untreated group of affected trees, but I think it's contributed a long way to keeping the trees alive and in good health.”

The sustained rainfall events and subsequent turnaround becomes even more significant when you consider just how many apple production seasons the Fankhausers have seen, with the family producing apples in Victoria for five generations since the 1880s. For Mr Fankhauser, the key to success is quite uncomplicated – tree health.

“A healthy tree will produce good fruit, it's as simple as that,” he said. “If a tree is not well, the taste of the apples is diminished, and the storage life is shortened. Healthy trees are imperative to a good financial bottom line.”

Bayer territory business manager Alistair Beyer said Serenade Prime contains the specific QST713 strain of Bacillus amyloliquefaciens – a soil ameliorating beneficial bacterium, which can be used in a wide range of crops.

Serenade Prime is certified as an organic input for Australian farmers.

“It is applied to actively growing root systems, ideally early in the life of the crop, and forms a symbiotic relationship with the root systems of those crops,” Mr Beyer said.

“Serenade Prime enhances the plant's ability to extract nutrients and water from the soil, which in turn enhances root architecture and the plant's overall health.

“The ultimate benefit is a better pack-out, and for an apple grower, that could include factors such as improved total yield, colour and skin finish.”

The Fankhausers first came across Serenade Prime a number of years ago, when Mr Beyer applied the product to some sick Granny Smith trees – at 40 years old they were some of the original plantings on their Drouin property.

“The very first trials here were literally with a watering can on half a dozen sick trees, and we saw results where the tree started to perk up, the leaf colour darkened and looked a lot healthier,” Mr Fankhauser said.

“New leaf started showing on trees where we didn't think they were going to. Those Granny Smith trees are still alive today, and we had thought we were going to lose them there and then.

“Immediately after we saw that, the first thing we did was fertigate the whole block with Serenade Prime as soon as conditions dried out enough. If it was too wet, we'd go through with a boom spray and butt-drenched individual trees.

“The proof of the pudding is that the trees are still standing. For us it's a bit of a no-brainer, we'll be using Serenade Prime regularly from now on.”

That first experience has prompted the Fankhausers to use Serenade Prime across their whole orchard as a standard treatment for tree health, which Mr Beyer says aligns well with the results of Bayer scientific trials.

“All growers know that tree health is vitally important, and when applied to an actively growing root system early in the seasonal growth stage of the crop, Serenade Prime can help access the nutrients necessary to produce a healthy growing tree,” he said.

“Growers such as Brad like innovation, and they like to give a new product a go, and in this case, it's worked incredibly well. Serenade Prime is a little bit unique, and it's shown dividends here with tree health.”

The flow-on effect from being able to keep trees healthy in a commercial orchard is very important for productivity, and the financial bottom line.

“If we start losing trees and then a block of fruit, productivity drops markedly, obviously. And trying to replace a dead tree amongst a block of trees that's 10 or 12 or 15-years old, you get a lot of inconsistencies,” Mr Fankhauser said.

“For us, keeping trees healthy is paramount to keeping a block productive. Essentially if the trees are all healthy, you get more apples in more bins, and more apples in more bins is a better bottom line.”

Importantly, Mr Fankhauser says they’ve found Serenade Prime both easy to apply, and low cost. “You've only got to save one or two sick trees and you are back in front for not an overly significant cost of application,” he said.

“Going forward, we'll be using Serenade Prime religiously during the seasonal root development stage in our standard spring program, probably two or three times a season, depending on how wet or how stressed the trees are.

“Serenade Prime is producing higher and more consistent yields and better-quality fruit, which allows us to store produce for longer. So, it's ticking a lot of boxes for us.”

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