With a head for numbers, estimating the volume of her avocado crop is almost second nature to Maria Watchorn.
Primor’s Crop Estimator of the Year award winners Andrew and Maria Watchorn, with AVOCO’s John Carroll. (Picture supplied).
The former banker, who enjoyed 18 years in the industry before becoming a full-time mother and grower, says having packhouse managers to call on for advice is also beneficial to working out calculations.
“I think it helps that we have a history on the orchard too. This is the eighth year we’ve produced a crop – and, because I live on the property, I’m in tune with what’s going on with the trees,” says Maria.
“There are no mathematical equations involved – it’s more of an intuitive and visual thing, with some input from a few key people.”
Maria and husband Andrew Watchorn have recently been named Primor’s Crop Estimators of the Year at the AVOCO awards in Auckland.
The award recognises their accuracy at estimating their crop for the 2013/2014 season.
The Omokoroa couple harvested 28 tonnes per canopy hectare, which is just one bin shy of their 300-bin crop estimation.
Last season’s crop on their six-hectare Prole Rd property was their best ever – and Maria’s estimation for the new season looks just as promising.
“The volumes are very similar to what they were last year,” says Maria.
“Like many people in the industry, we had another fantastic fruit set. I thought we could have been excluded from that, due to an extensive spring prune and heavy crop last year, so it has been a bit surprising.”
The couple bought the property eight years ago with the intention of converting what was a rundown avocado and citrus orchard into kiwifruit.
But their plans changed after the orchard was GPS mapped to reveal there were more avocado trees planted than they originally realised.
“We bought it under the impression it was a block with gnarly old orange and mandarin trees taking over what we thought were about 140 avocado trees,” says Maria.
“In reality, we were starting out with 300 avocado trees.”
After a radical re-think, the couple focused their efforts on cutting out all of the citrus and planting about 70 more avocado trees.
Maria also undertook a major pollinator planting programme, with 10 per cent of the orchard planted with pollination-boosters, such as Zutano, Bacon and Ettinger, in the first 18 months.
“Pollination is important, so we did that to give bees a little bit more opportunity to successfully cross-pollinate our orchard.”
The orchard produces fruit off 2.7 canopy hectares and through careful management, and Maria has been able to generate an export crop every year.
She believes a combination of pruning, injecting, pest control and water management have been critical to her success.
Maria expects their orchard will have its first pick in September, with two or three more picks before the season is out.
With bumper crops expected for both New Zealand and Australia, there is extra pressure on exporters like AVOCO, a joint partnership between Primor Produce and Southern Produce, to uphold the value of its fruit.
But Maria says she has every faith in AVOCO to get the job done.
“As growers, the flow plans are out of our hands.
“We simply need to focus on supplying market-ready fruit and have faith in our packhouses and exporter to manage the rest.”