Cherry on top for Central Otago
The boom in horticulture highlights the confidence of growers in the continuing potential of fruitgrowing in Central Otago.
Thousands of cherry, apricot and apple trees are being planted in Central Otago this spring although other rumoured, and unconfirmed, developments are likely hampered by the shortage of cherry trees as demand is outstripping supply.
About 25 years ago in Felton road, Bannockburn, near Cromwell, farms and orchards were replaced with vineyards and the landscape had been transformed dramatically by about 20 vineyards.
In 2017 fruit is appearing again this spring with a block of 20ha shortly to be planted in 5ha of an early producing cherry at a site which has also been classified as “early”.
In another venture further down Felton road a new packhouse is being constructed.
Lowburn fruitgrower Hugh Dendy is not a man to let thyme and time get away on him and he is among Central Otago growers developing land for cherries and had purchased 120ha of thyme covered land above Dairy Creek
The Dairy Creek Irrigation Company and Alexandrabased Pioneer Energy have joined forces to invest about $10 million in an irrigation scheme which will take water from Dairy Creek, near the Clyde Hydro-electric dam, up to about 1800ha of land which will be developed by those with interests in horticulture and agriculture
However, with a wait of up to two years for cherry trees Hugh and his manager Tim Paulin are growing their own trees.
However, nurseries will be approached when trees with royalties need to be purchased.
Summerfruit NZ chairman Tim Jones said about 40ha to 50ha of ground is now being planted out in cherries by those growers who around two years ago placed tree orders with nurseries.
Cherry blocks coming in to production this year could bump up the estimated 2018 crop to 4,000 tonnes of export fruit. New varieties of apricots are exciting and could re-invigorate the apricot industry, he says.
Those existing cherry growers planting more trees already had the infrastructure required for packing or have contracted out the packing. Accommodation requirements would also be sorted for the extra casual staff as required.
“It’s the new players coming in to the industry that should be asking the question whether there are existing services to grow or manage orchards if they [new growers] do not have these in place.”
The use of new growing systems gave growers the ability to install rain covers for risk management of weather issues in Central Otago. It is easier to construct these covers over the new techniques than over trees planted in the traditional manner, Tim said.
Installing rain covers over the new growing systems would require an investment of about 100,000 per hectare.
In this past season 3,340 tonnes of cherries were exported which was a “touch down” on the 2015-16 total of 3,408 export tonnes.
Average fruit prices for the year were higher than any previous season which he attributes to good fruit, a strong market and the timing of the Chinese New Year.
When asked his choice of the best producing cherry variety for 2016-2017,Tim said it was probably Lapin, with Centennial the first of a new very promising late variety.
Some very promising apricots are being released through the joint programme between Summerfruit NZ and Plant & Food.
“There are some exciting mid-and-late season apricots with excellent brix of about 16 and above. Very sweet fruit. When you think that Sundrop and Clutha Gold are 10 or 11 brix this 16 is excellent.”
The highly coloured new varieties are firm sweet and from taste tests with Asian consumer panels proved to be very acceptable.
Tim believes that these new varieties would lead to the regeneration of the apricot industry and could open up new markets, such as China.
In the Teviot Valley apples are the fruit of choice although new varieties of apricots are being trialled there.
Ettrick orchardist and a former Pipfruit NZ director Stephen Darling says “anecdotally” he is aware that forward orders of trees from nurseries are backed up for about two years, which is an example of the confidence in the pipfruit industry.
Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan was concerned about the implications of a proposed Labour Party water tax for landbased operations in Central Otago and had written to Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern, later publicly releasing this letter.
He said from figures supplied to him by the Otago Water Rights User Group showed about 40,000 ha were currently irrigated in Central Otago.
This group had estimated that in an average season an “average” irrigated property would use 750mm of irrigation water per hectare. He saw the tax as not only unfair but “a reverse tax” on rainfall as the tax paid would be determined not by usage of water through irrigation, but by the lack of rainfall in the district. Mr Cadogan made public the response from Miss Ardern, saying he gained some solace from a line in her letter which stated: “the royalty will be flexible enough to reflect the scarcity of abundance of water in different regions, the different quality of water in different regions and its use”.