Big­ger cher­ries bring Christ­mas cheer

Marlborough Express - - NEWS - GEOFF VAUSE

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.

SCOTT HAM­MOND/STUFF

Kirsty Win­der, of Sim­ply Sum­mer Fruit, with early va­ri­ety Burlat ready for the do­mes­tic mar­ket.

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