Apple Alcatraz: orchardist turns to fences to save production - 1 May 2015

Orchardist John Evans says building a feral-proof fence has saved his apple crop from devastation by wallabies – and thousands of dollars in potential losses.

A sudden explosion in the wallaby population over the last two years quickly destroyed productivity across the 20 hectare apple orchard on his 50 hectare farm, at Geeveston in southern Tasmania.

The impact to the respected family apple business would have been financially devastating if it had gone on for another season, and the sheer volume of wallabies meant culling was useless.

“They ate 1000 newly planted Gala trees, costing us around $18 000. Of course, you also have to factor in the cost of a complete year of production, so all in all we probably lost up to $40 000,” Mr Evans said.

“They eat all the grass in the alleyways so it reduces organic matter in the orchards. They reach into the apple trees to eat the foliage and buds, and once the frosts come they eat the bark starting at 1.2 m and tearing the bark down to the ground, essentially ringbarking the trees. 

“They break down our newly grafted trees, pulling the new tip growth over to eat the ends to the point where the grafts break out and we have to regraft the next spring, they also eat pasture down to a point where the grass can’t grow and the weeds take over. We had been running around 18 head of cattle at our home farm, but suddenly we were lucky to run the bull over winter.”

The reason for the numbers lies in Mr Evan’s borders, where previously rough grazing land buffered his property, but which have now been converted to pine plantation forests. The pine needles build up on the ground so nothing grows, forcing wallabies to forage for food elsewhere. 

Mr Evans says it’s like a different property, now he’s started building a feral fence which once completed at his two farms will stretch almost 10kms.

The Waratah 11.90.15 Stocksafe-T® Longlife® wire being used is specifically designed to prevent animals penetrating the fence, and spacing aims to thwart the determined pests.

“We have put land bridges over the creeks and fenced those, so the wallabies can’t come in up the creek, and in the corners we have double fenced so that should they get in, they won’t be able to force the fence off the clips with their pressure,” Mr Evans said.

“There are no wallabies now - my daughters call the property Alcatraz! 

“If we hadn’t fenced we would have lost new plantings of our new apple varieties. Aside from the extreme cost of any lost plantings, there is the lost production right through the life of the variety.

“Those trees are forecast to grow up to 110 tonnes per hectare at an average price of $400 per bin (360kg) back to the farm, and we will be growing 3000 bins when we finish planting. That’s a lot of money. Even if we’d lost half, production losses would have been huge.

“Without the feral fence we couldn’t go forwards, and if we had attempted to, we would have lost $150 000 a year minimum.

“I never thought I’d be fencing to keep things out of the farm, only to keep things in. Now, in my opinion if you don’t use feral fencing you’re wasting your time.”