Bigger cherries bring Christmas cheer
Too much rain prevented the bees from getting busy for your Christmas cherries this year.
Orchardists in Marlborough have reported low pollination when the cherry trees were flowering in September.
And although that means fewer cherries this year, it also means bigger cherries.
Grower Kirsty Winder said there was too much rain at the crucial time this year.
Bees also stayed home when temperatures were below 12 degrees Celsius.
‘‘It’s looking like an average year,’’ Winder said.
‘‘[But] the fruit will be quality, not quantity.’’
‘‘We’re heavily weather,’’ she said.
‘‘It was a very poor spring pollination this year. All the growers will be in the same boat with a lighter crop, but they will be bigger fruit.’’
Wednesday’s storm did not do too much damage though, as the fruit were not quite at the stage of growth where bruising occurred, Winder said. Most damage was to the nets covering the fruit trees.
Picking was getting underway this week, and Winder said their expected volume was commercially sensitive. The cherry crop was for the domestic market which had a less onerous grading system to the export market.
‘‘We grade cherries for size, and for blemishes like bruises and bird pecks,’’ she said.
‘‘Grades are tag one, tag two - we sell firsts and seconds in our shop. We don’t throw anything away unless it’s rain damaged or split - we eat them, give them away.’’
Cherry exporter Blair McClean, at Cherrybank near Blenheim, said pollination had affected his crop.
McClean estimated more than 80 millimetres of rain had kept the bees away over the September reliant on
"It's looking like an average year. [But] the fruit will be quality, not quantity." Kirsty Winder, Simply Summer Fruit
flowering period this year, compared to about 30mm at the same time last year.
He said fruit would be up to 10 days earlier with bigger fruit, but about 40 per cent less than last year.
McClean, and partners Mel Ball and Bernie and Trish Rowe, installed an optical grader this year, an expensive bit of kit that would have cost more than $100,000 had they got a new one.
Cherrybank also employed about 60 pickers and packers until the New Year, many of them local people with backpackers making up any shortfall.
Hawke’s Bay growers had fruit earlier than Marlborough, with Central Otago later.
McClean said they took advantage of the pre-Christmas domestic market if the price was right and looked to the export market after Christmas as Otago’s much larger crop came on stream.
‘‘There’s high standards for export, of course. Anything not up to that goes to the domestic market and anything really bad we dump,’’ McClean said.
Reject fruit was also used for juice, icecream and yoghurt, and stock food.
He would not say what volume they produced, but was hoping for a dry spell before Christmas. He expected up to 50 per cent of their crop would not be accepted for offshore markets.
McClean said an average of about 150 tonnes of cherries were grown in Marlborough, with about 40 tonnes exported.
New Zealand exported about 2500 tonnes of cherries, much of it grown in Central Otago.
Kirsty Winder, of Simply Summer Fruit, with early variety Burlat ready for the domestic market.