Anticipation was building as the bus slowly meandered towards Ettrick for the annual apple orchard visit. Fortunately, this year's visit would not be marred by a tragic tale of hail-damaged crops and lost income.
Rather, 2016 is turning out to be one of the best years yet for apple growers as the weather, farm management practices and the perhaps alignment of the planets have combined to produce a crop of significant quantity and high quality. Mark Darling yet again played his part in inspiring young agricultural students to take up the challenge of apple farming and contribute to New Zealand's economy.
Students got to see apple production techniques up close and enjoyed the bustling environment of a fully-functioning pack house. Mark spoke of the challenges of producing fruit that meets consumer expectations and the careful effort required to ensure that each orchard was able to produce a high percentage of these export-quality apples.
Recent (expensive!) machinery additions in the pack house this year have further refined the process of colour grading, ensuring more apples are correctly identified as export quality before the packing process (see InVision grader photo in the gallery).
After a hearty lunch, way to many freshly picked apples and the gaining of valuable information for an upcoming assessment, we began our journey home, with the knowledge that we had just observed, handled and eaten apples that the rest of New Zealand have never had the privilege of enjoying.