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  • Writer's pictureMike Casey

Capital Costs of UFO growing strategy

The costs of establishing a UFO orchard can be particularly off-putting to many because it is multiples more than the costs associated with growing a system such as central leader or vase.

The trellis infrastructure cost us just over $25k NZD per hectare, and because you can plant many more trees per hectare, the cost of trees, additional irrigation and other supplies also increases the cost.

On top of that, in the early years, UFO requires considerably more bud rubbing, pruning, manipulation, tying and clipping than central leader, which means the hours required in the early years and indeed your labour costs are much higher.

The above reasons alone would be enough to put most rational people off ever growing UFO, but those that grow UFO believe faster maturity along with higher yield, cheaper maintenance, easier pruning, easier spraying, easier mowing and better protection of fruit from wind, rain and hail quickly offset these costs.

UFO Trellis System

UFO Growing System wire trellis
UFO Growing System wire trellis

The Trellis for a UFO orchard is essentially the poles, strainers and anchors used to hold up wires for which you tie the trees down and then clip their offshoots to. In the above picture you can see the trees in the distance have been tied down and the trees in the foreground are yet to be. For those who are experienced in UFO, you will note that these trees are well into leaf and should have been tied down months earlier. This was unfortunate for us that availability of contractors wasn't what we had hoped and as a result we broke a few trees when bending them down to the wire during the tie down process. Luckily, even though we were late at tying down, the trees have flourished as you would expect.

Below is the goal of how a tree should look after its first season of growth.

UFO Cherry Tree with lots of offshoots
UFO Cherry Tree with lots of offshoots

You can determine in the above picture, the cordon of the tree is tied down to the first wire, and slopes up ever so slightly to encourage vigour to be dispersed evenly throughout the tree. The off shoots are then clipped to the second wire, and when large enough a third and fourth (perhaps even fifth) wire will be added to encourage upright growth of the offshoot.

How To Build a UFO Trellis System

To establish the first 4ha of our UFO orchard we contracted Southern Crop Protection, which is a subsidiary of 45South. Southern Crop Protection provided all the materials for the trellis and allowed me to tag along and help them out (get in their way) while they installed it.

Strainers and Poles, laid out in the rows and ready to be vibrated in.
Strainers and Poles, laid out in the rows and ready to be vibrated in.

In 2019, we had 70 rows, each of which is ~ 240 metres in length. Each requires a wooden strainer at each end, and a screw anchor to support the wire strain.

In total, we used 140 wooden strainers and screw anchors and 1540 internal steel poles with 17 km of 3.15 mm high tensile wire for the first wire.

Vibrating in the wooden strainers
Vibrating in the wooden strainers

The poles were laid out and a string line was used to mark out the spot each was to be punched in.

We then had a 20-tonne digger to vibrate in the heavy strainers and a smaller 2-tonne digger to drive down the rows and vibrate in the internal poles.

One this was done, wire was run from a spinning jenny and then strained up using a triplex and some good old-fashioned elbow grease. It was then attached to the steel poles using a metal wire clap.

At 25k NZD per hectare it's not cheap, however we are proud of the end result and excited now about the increased yield opportunity in front of us.

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