Rocking into our biggest harvest yet

4 minute read

It’s all go in Hastings and Gisborne, New Zealand with the harvest of the new season Rockit™ apples in full swing. As a bumper crop of deliciously crisp and red apples makes its way from the orchard to the packhouse, we delve into the inside the harvest season hype.  

Harvest is a hive of activity in any orchard. A time when horticultural science, hard work and a good dose of nature’s nurturing come to fruition. What makes each Rockit™ harvest so unique is the fastidious focus on quality from just one magic variety.   

“We are just one variety, so 100% of our orchards are planted with the same trees,” explains Nathan Waites, Rockit™ Technical Operations Manager.  While this means 100% of the fruit is the superior Rockit™ blend, it also means all the apples ripen within the same timeframe, so it does create some challenges. For this reason, the team spends months analysing past harvest data to carefully pinpoint the optimal times to harvest different orchard regions. 

Well before buds begin to break, there is comprehensive testing and planning, with pruning and spraying strategies put into place to ensure the apples grow to be perfectly-sized crisp fruit. As the fruit begins to ripen, the team constantly walks the orchards inspecting the crops and uses high-tech practices to measure fruit loads, predict crop size and plan for picking. 

“Every five days we’re taking fruit samples from orchard blocks, looking at the colour and testing for starch, brix, and fruit pressure,” explains Nathan. Horticultural scientist Dharini Marinkovich says that given apples are a climatic fruit, this rigourous maturity testing is key to getting the harvest timing bang on. The aim is to pick the apples when the starch has started to convert, but it is not fully converted to sugar.  

When the fruit hits the packhouse it is strategically stored to ensure optimal flavour and crunch. “We use a mix of controlled atmosphere storage where we remove the oxygen to stop the fruit from respiring, and regular atmosphere storage where we reduce the temperature down to 2 degrees,” explains Rockit™  Packhouse Production Manager, Michael Kelly. 

Right from pruning through to packing, there are very stringent processes to ensure only A-class apples. “Unlike others, we don’t have B-or C-class fruit. So we put a lot of effort into the small details,” says Nathan.  

One of these details is delicate handling. Because they are small fruit, it can be tempting to pick two at a time, but our pickers pick one apple at a time so it doesn’t cause bruising. Such careful picking, and such small fruit, means filling bins takes longer than it does at other apple orchards. This is where Rockit’s dedication to innovation pays off. “Having invested heavily into modern 2D growing systems and been one of the earliest adopters of FOPS planting techniques, our orchard rows are closer together and trees are tall and narrow, so you get a ‘wall of fruit’,” explains Nathan. This type of planting really improves fruit quality, and it also allows for the use of modern harvest platforms, which means more pickers picking fruit at a time.  

Michael says this year the team expects to pack close to 200 million apples (nearly twice as many apples as last harvest), so the packhouse has geared up with an additional 200 team members. There are also some exciting new automation processes adding to the efficiencies. “Rockit has a real commitment to challenging the status quo and modifying and improving processes and machinery … Every year we’re looking to take things to the next level.” 

This harvest is set to be the biggest yet and not only is it a really good-looking crop, there’s something extra special about it. “The past few years have been tough, with high rainfall and overly wet conditions, but this season we’ve had great conditions,” says Nathan. “Seeing such a solid crop come to fruition is a real reflection of the resilience and commitment of our team.”  

It’s clear, the 2024 harvest is rocking.  

Written by,
Emma Hogan

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