Cherry crops take a hit
Further spells of wintry weather has Central Otago fruit and grape growers on edge.
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.”