Cherry crops take a hit

Fur­ther spells of win­try weather has Cen­tral Otago fruit and grape grow­ers on edge.

The Orchardist - - News - Story and photo by Dianne King

Un­pre­dictable weather has de­layed the start of the cherry crop as win­try con­di­tions, with snow low on moun­tain ranges, has con­tin­ued well into Novem­ber raising a threat of late frosts in Cen­tral Otago.

The dis­trict’s cherry crops took a hit with a frost episode in Oc­to­ber and with the warmer weather in on-again off-again mode the har­vest of this sea­son’s crop is not ex­pected to start un­til early De­cem­ber. As re­sult of the Oc­to­ber frosts it has been pre­dicted there could be a 20 per­cent re­duc­tion in some ar­eas, but on the plus side cherry size will be larger and ton­nage will be sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous years be­cause of new blocks com­ing in to har­vest. Con­sul­tant Earn­scy Weaver of Alexan­dra has chalked up years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a fruit grower and said the vari­ables of weather af­fect­ing var­i­ous sum­mer­fruit crops isn’t un­usual for mid-Novem­ber. But late Novem­ber win­try con­di­tions and frosts did not hap­pen on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. The cold air mass in Oc­to­ber had caused ma­jor frost dam­age to cher­ries in some blocks and not in oth­ers, with most of the dam­age to crops in the north­ern end of the Cromwell basin.

“Roxburgh [the Te­viot dis­trict] did not get that de­gree of frost,” he said.

“For the grow­ers it [the sea­son] will be busi­ness as usual.”

Through­out Cen­tral Otago the sum­mer­fruit sea­son, which had been no­tice­ably early for the past cou­ple of years, ap­peared to have set­tled back to its cus­tom­ary pat­tern of cherry har­vests from De­cem­ber on and the apri­cot va­ri­eties look set for Jan­uary.

Earn­scle­ugh or­chardist, Jeremy His­cock, said staffing on his op­er­a­tion, was at present com­fort­able with all va­can­cies filled

to start the sea­son in De­cem­ber.

“Job seeker en­quiries have been con­stant since late win­ter.”

He thinks the up­com­ing en­force­ment of free­dom cam­per rules around Lake Dun­stan in the Cromwell and Alexan­dra ar­eas could have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the de­sir­abil­ity of Otago as a back­packer re­gion.

“Pos­i­tive sup­port from the Cen­tral Otago Dis­trict Coun­cil re­gard­ing ac­com­mo­dat­ing our own staff on site, whilst it comes with a cost, is the right thing to do,” he said.

But he un­der­stood there were still pro­jected short­ages for the com­ing har­vest peak in Jan­uary and staff were likely to be in short sup­ply.

At Jack­son Or­chards, Cromwell, co-owner Mark Jack­son said he ex­pected har­vest­ing of the first cher­ries, the Burlat va­ri­ety, to­wards the end of Novem­ber. Cromwell grower, Si­mon Webb said at Webb’s Or­chard the apri­cot crop set had been huge and thin­ning had been “full on”. Main apri­cot crop va­ri­eties would be ready for har­vest in Jan­uary and his NZSum­mer trial block would be ready be­fore Christ­mas.

Wa­ter frost-fight­ing had been needed for the Oc­to­ber mass of cold air episode.

“Our apri­cots were frag­ile at that stage in Oc­to­ber,” he said. Wind ma­chines could not op­er­ate suc­cess­fully with an air­type frost. At the same time hu­mid­ity was low be­cause ground con­di­tions were very dry. Peach and nec­tarine blocks ap­peared to be at the best they have been for a cou­ple of years, he said.

How­ever, he too is keep­ing a watch on the weather. His ir­ri­ga­tion/frost fight­ing dam is full, wind ma­chines have been topped up with fuel and all is set to go should win­try con­di­tions bring frosts un­til the sum­mer weather kicks in.

“The cold air mass in Oc­to­ber had caused ma­jor frost dam­age to cher­ries in some blocks and not in oth­ers, with most of the dam­age to crops in the north­ern end of the Cromwell basin.”

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