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Frost fighting reaches new heights

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Kate de Lautour

It’s officially spring, and with the new season comes an annual headache for many growers – frost.

Hastings based firm New Zealand Frost Fans have been helping growers to combat frost in countries around the world, including Australia, Italy, Turkey, Canada and New Zealand, for the past 14 years.

Both New Zealand and Australia rely heavily on fans for the protection of wine grapes, and in New Zealand this extends to pip fruit, kiwifruit and stone fruit. In Australia, table grapes, walnuts, olives, almonds, avocadoes and citrus crops are also protected by fans. The company services around 300 fans locally, with a total of 800 across the country and another 800 in Australia.

The effects of frost are a nightmare for growers and can impact on entire industries. CEO of NZ Frost Fans Steve Haslett says growers who choose to protect their crops with a frost fan, see their yields increase, as well as the assurance of more security over the future of their crops.

“A frost can not only wipe out a crop for one season, but it can also affect the plant’s growth for the following year as well.

“And a fan is not just about avoiding catastrophic loss, it’s also about increasing a grower’s current yields, improving the quality of the fruit and ensuring continuity of supply or shelf space.”

An environmental requirement to use less fuel and create less noise has led to the development of the Frostboss C49, a four blade machine, with precision moulded composite blades. The blades are manufactured in a purpose built factory on the Omahu Rd site.

The composite blade offers an optimised pitch from hub to tip and significantly thinner tips than previous blades, to reduce noise. Intelligent electronic controllers, designed in Hawke’s Bay, by Lockyer Electronics, allow auto start and stop functions while the turbo charged diesel engine provides improved fuel consumption. Web-based monitoring of the conditions in the field, including wind speed and temperature, gives growers up to the minute data on the machine’s effectiveness and will red- flag any mechanical issues.

The machines are assembled, and engines tested at the Omahu Road workshop, and then are shipped in 40 ft containers to their destination.

“Exporting is the easy part - it costs us as much to ship to Turkey as it does to the South Island.”

Haslett says with continuity of supply becoming more important in Australia together with new and emerging crops such as walnuts in Tasmania, and Almonds in Victoria the opportunities across the Tasman are considerable.

“Getting fans on a block is a long gestation period because while the growers can see the benefits, we need to convince the accountants of the long-term value of the fans.”

Global warming is being blamed for causing early bud burst in German vineyards and for the first time last year, the Bavarian growers suffered serious frost damage.

“The Germans haven’t seen a need for fans in their vineyards, but the scope for change is there now.”

Similarly in South America, there has been catastrophic loss of citrus in recent years, due to frost and while this won’t be an easy market to crack, it’s another target for this innovative Hawke’s Bay business.