News Profile Technology

Gender diversity and best practice lead at Ladycroft

bec whittaker profile
bec whittaker profile

Bec Whittaker

With regards to creating a horticulture group at Ladycroft Orchard within the Manjimup area of Western Australia, Bec Whittaker is obvious – females, along with males, have to be educated and inspired all through the farming enterprise!

Because the orchard supervisor Bec has been strategic in creating a balanced staff of younger men and women performing roles throughout the organisation construction.

“We’ve 10 devoted employees, most of whom have been with us a number of years or extra – 5 women and 5 boys,” she stated.

“I’m a robust believer that providing coaching alternatives, and all orchard jobs with out gender prejudice improves employees retention and effectivity.”

Enhancing effectivity can also be central to the Ladycroft administration staff’s technique of shifting to extra intensive orchard methods.

Larger yields per hectare, extra uniform color and measurement, decreasing the variety of picks and a lowered dependence on labour are all outcomes deliberate for within the implementation of extra two-dimensional, nearer plantings at Ladycroft.

“We’re shifting extra to the extreme planting of three and a half metre row spacing by zero.eight tree spacing,” Bec stated. “It’s about effectivity.

“This will probably be pushed from extra environment friendly close-planted spindle, multi chief and 2D orchard plantings.”

On the picturesque orchard nestled amongst State Forest-clad hills west of Manjimup, improved productiveness also needs to handle a extra bodily limitation – scarcity of land to broaden.

“I’d wish to go in there,” Bec says of the forest with a glint of mischief, “however I’m unsure what would occur if apple timber instantly began popping up. Perhaps by the point they observed I’d chopped the timber down I might declare squatters’ rights…fascinating.”

The fast humour, enthusiasm and skill to quickly determine, weigh up and apply new alternatives or methods for enchancment are all hallmarks she brings to managing Ladycroft on behalf of one in every of WA’s largest pome and stonefruit growers Casotti Group, which additionally owns the close by Casuarina Valley Orchard, run by orchard supervisor Dave Stewart.

Scope for improvement

Ladycroft is a comparatively new orchard, transformed from vegetable rising when it was purchased by the Casotti Group in 1996 and planted predominantly to the then-new Cripps Pink (marketed as Pink Woman). There at the moment are 44 hectares beneath apples and 7ha of vineyards.

An off-the-cuff at Casuarina on the time Ladycroft was purchased, Bec labored briefly on the arrange of latest orchard and in 2005, after a stint fish farming within the east with aquaculturalist husband Shaun, requested to return there.

bec whittaker profile leila galega

Ladycroft Orchard supervisor Bec Whittaker (lt) and Leila Galega (rt), from Italy, who joined Ladycroft as an off-the-cuff picker, accomplished a Diploma of Horticulture and is now an orchard supervisor.

“That is such a ravishing orchard,” she stated. “At Casuarina they have been doing actually cool issues, however you have been a part of a really giant group and I feel I noticed extra scope for private improvement right here.  I’ve labored onerous to earn the respect of the overall supervisor to now be the orchard supervisor right here.”

Excessive-level enterprise selections throughout the group corresponding to selection decisions, orchard technique and advertising are made by Casotti proprietor and basic supervisor Mario Casotti, at the side of Casuarina orchard supervisor Dave Stewart, leaving Bec to give attention to preserving timber wholesome, prices down and doing her personal ‘cool issues’ producing higher fruit.

There’s a sense of rigour and speedy evolution on the clear, productive orchard the place new 2D- multi chief plantings sit alongside trials of methods picked up from research excursions to america and Europe and conventional central-leader Granny Smith plantings.

The primary 2D-multi chief blocks have been arrange in 2017 motivated by a want to scale back prices and produce top quality fruit.

Bec is a eager observer of worldwide orchard administration developments and is fast to see alternative to attempt one thing new in the necessity to rework an underperforming block.

A block of out-of-favour-with-retailers, Sundowners on M106 rootstock on V-trellis was minimize off two years in the past, regrafted to Galaxy and transitioned to a fruiting wall. “I noticed it throughout an business research tour to Washington State and needed to see whether or not it will ship extra uniformity of fruit color and measurement by means of higher mild penetration, and permit for simpler administration,” Bec stated.

“We practice to fill the gaps and every one of many spurs carries a bit of fruit. These have had nice progress as they’ve already hit prime wire and we’ve needed to trim again. The Sundowners have been calm, however I feel as a result of we’ve grafted on such a strong rootstock they’ve taken off.”

Most new plantings are on M9 or M26 according to the shift to extra intensive techniques.

“We gained’t be planting any extra 106, as 106 produces a tree which is just too huge and grunty and arduous to work with whenever you’re doing intensive plantings,” Bec stated. “You need a smaller, much less vigorous tree like an M9 produces, that also grows to 3 metres, and helps excessive yields.”

Boundary stretching

Bec stated a Diploma of Horticulture undertaken by way of exterior research whereas at Ladycroft had given her the arrogance to attempt new approaches.

“It gave me a greater understanding of the timber,” she stated. “It additionally gave me the perception to stretch my very own boundaries and check out various things, somewhat than being regimented.

“Tree types have modified so much since I first began in horticulture. We’ve gone away from the previous vase tree and central chief, to slender spindle and now we’re performing some blocks on 2D-multi chief.”

Pink Woman apples nonetheless account for the most important share of manufacturing at Ladycroft, with 16ha of the 44ha beneath apples, however the Cripps Pink is being changed by higher-coloured cultivars Rosy Glow and Woman In Purple. Equally, high-colour Galaxy and Alvina Gala are changing Royal Gala, Sundowner and Fuji.

“We’ve a small block of Alvina gala on slender spindle at second leaf that I cropped this yr,” Bec stated. “Admittedly it was very mild, however the color was completely superior. I’ve by no means seen such good color on any of the Royal Galas or the Galaxies as we did on the Alvina.

“I cropped them at second leaf as a little bit of an experiment, making an attempt to save lots of prices in tree coaching based mostly on one thing I noticed in Italy. I hung one piece of fruit on the top of the branches I needed to maintain and the load of the fruit has pulled the branches down and it’s simply hung superbly. I’m actually proud of the expansion of the timber and nonetheless anticipate the timber to succeed in prime wire at three.2 metres in third leaf.”

“We went by means of thinning and I wasn’t planning on choosing the fruit as I assumed it will be over sized, I simply needed it to do the job shaping branches.  We ended up getting a very good decide and a terrific pack out of that fruit. It was lovely fruit and it did the job of shaping branches. Tree coaching is a big expense in creating slender spindle within the early years so I assumed it will be value a shot.”

bec whittaker profile gala sundowner

A block of Sundowners regrafted to Gala Galaxy and educated right into a fruiting wall have proven such robust progress they’ve needed to be trimmed again.


The Casotti Group is the most important grower within the state of the locally-bred ANAPB01 selection which produces the distinctive burgundy-coloured apple Bravo®.  The Cripps Pink x Royal Gala cross selection was bred by WA Division of Agriculture apple breeder John Cripps and first launched for business plantings in 2014.

Casotti common supervisor Mario Casotti was an early backer of the variability, seeing in its hanging color, agency, crisp, juiciness, potential to retailer properly and never brown when minimize, a particular apple that ticked all of the packing containers wanted to be a shopper success.

Bravo dominates new plantings at Ladycroft the place it’s being grown on slender spindle and 2D-multi chief. Bec stated the primary blocks have been yielding nicely at four-leaf stage and she or he was hopeful of a minimum of 70t/ha in full manufacturing. An extra 4 hectares of Bravo is underneath improvement at Ladycroft.

“I’ve discovered it, like its mum or dad Sundowner, fairly a simple tree to develop,” she stated. “You need to feed it as a younger tree. In our karri loam soils, it is rather manganese and magnesium hungry. I’m fairly proud of the expansion that we’ve achieved. We skinny fairly late to carry the dimensions again and the fruit appears to be fairly an inexpensive high quality coming off.”

That is the fourth yr of economic manufacturing for Bravo. Native Fruit West Co operative has been licensed to commercialise ANAPB 01 and is already exploring export alternatives for the apples.

“It’s a very nice crisp apple, and doesn’t brown when minimize,” Bec stated. “Mario introduced a half-eaten one in from the automotive and left it on the bench and days later it nonetheless hadn’t gone brown.”

Color is helped by the cool valley location which supplies loads of chill. “One in every of my Bravo blocks is planted within the again nook and will get a little bit of shade, even the shaded timber nonetheless have actually good color,” Bec stated. “We haven’t had plenty of hail, however we undoubtedly get numerous frost in winter. Eight years in the past we had ice on the timber whereas we have been choosing Pink Woman apples.”

Though hail has not been a problem at Ladycroft, the south was hit badly in 2013 and at the moment the choice was made to place all new timber beneath netting.

“All new planting has netting budgeted,” Bec stated. “It doesn’t matter if its Granny Smith or Bravo, we’ve got white drape netting so if there’s a probability of hail it’s coated. The fruit nonetheless colors up beneath and you may see that if you take a look at the Bravo.”

Empowering employees

Determination-making in a high-performance orchard requires good knowledge. Bec lately issued iPads to key employees to make sure knowledge is captured extra simply in subject, from the place it’s uploaded to iCloud and may be picked up on the workplace pc by workplace administrator Dee and entered into administration software program or excel spreadsheets.

Employees are very a lot a part of the collaborative decision-making course of, with common group conferences to debate what’s arising. They’re additionally given their very own timber to handle.

“We’re after high quality,” Bec stated. “When everybody has duty for his or her timber, they’ve an funding in excessive efficiency of their sections. It provides everybody an incentive. They take nice delight in it.”

Bec says getting expert employees is a problem so she needs to ensure she retains them. Everybody has been there for no less than three years together with husband Shaun and son Mallee.

Having benefited from research herself, Bec is a eager supporter of upskilling and empowering employees. “Coaching is so necessary, it brings such a special perspective,” she stated.

Leila Galega, from Bergamo, Italy, initially joined the orchard as an off-the-cuff picker earlier than being sponsored by the corporate for a everlasting position beneath the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. She has accomplished her personal Diploma of Horticulture and is now an orchard supervisor.

“Leila has a key position within the orchard, she’s working with the crew daily, hand’s on within the timber,” Bec stated. “We have now a trainee Jasmine, working alongside her who’s closely concerned within the new 2D-structures that we’re creating.”

Casotti is an accepted employer underneath the Seasonal Employee Programme and pruning and thinning final yr was accomplished by a workforce from Timor Leste. “They did an superior job and we hope to have them again this yr,” Bec stated. “A few of them had by no means seen an apple tree, however as soon as we educated them they didn’t cease. Language has been a barrier, however we discovered this group of individuals very prepared staff who have been wonderful at mimicking. (“First I present you, now you do!”)

“With choosing, we’ve gone with a workforce of Ni-Vans (from Vanuatu) who’ve had earlier expertise in New Zealand in addition to Australia they usually’ve proved excellent.

“The mindset of those pretty individuals is totally different from most working vacation staff. These individuals are underneath contract to us for the only objective of labor to earn cash for a pre-determined time period. They really feel privileged to be provided the chance to work and earn an excellent wage.

“The seasonal employee program has been a recreation changer for us when it comes to sustaining a devoted labour drive by means of every a part of the manufacturing cycle. The place we had a continuing turnover of backpacker labour all year long, we now have consistency and higher work effectivity to a better commonplace and the perfect bit is, most of them will return the subsequent yr!”

Future focus

Bec sees value of labour as an ongoing problem. The present focus is to restructure the orchard to be very uniform and develop tree buildings that are easy to prune and require minimal tree coaching. This will even help extra ergonomic and environment friendly platforms and different creating mechanical applied sciences which can minimise the necessity for informal labour. One other up-side to this can be a extra constant high quality apple, and better yields.

“Labour prices are creeping up and with occupational well being and security an ever-present challenge we’re going to be pushed away from ladders,” she stated.  “I’d wish to see extra platforms and mechanical applied sciences utilized to pruning thinning and choosing. I feel robotics will play an essential position in future.

“I’ve an formidable aim, to supply a block of apples with a first-grade pack out averaging 100 t / ha.

“Working with a various expert staff, who propagate intensive 2D multi chief manufacturing methods and utilise environment friendly mechanical applied sciences might convey one other objective inside attain.”


Key messages:

  • Concentrate on orchard effectivity and 2D-systems
  • Empowering employees
  • Rigorous trialling of latest methods and concepts


bec whittaker profile fruiting wall

Fruiting wall at Ladycroft.


About the author