Vandals chop down 1400 apple trees

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Vandals have cut down 1430 young apple trees at a Hastings orchard in what the local Indian community fears is a hate crime.

Orchardist Kulwant Singh is in despair after a second attack on his young apple trees in recent months.

He woke up yesterday morning to find 1430 one-year-old trees had been cut off at their base.

In November 5500 trees were attacked at the Henderson Rd property close to Flaxmere.

"I am very upset - I don't know what to do," he said.

Miranda Verlint, whose husband works for Mr Singh, said many felt it was "some type of revenge hate crime".

"We all need to rally around this family as they are really suffering - this situation is on the way to getting out of control," she said.

The orchard supported an extended family and several "very loyal workers".

"The Indian community will be in shock over this."

A consultant to Mr Singh, who did not wish to be named, said the latest attack was planned and "very nasty".

While the scale of the attack was less than November's it was designed to have maximum effect, he said.

All commercial apple trees are grafted on to a different root stock variety. On Mr Singh's orchard the attackers cut below the graft, so the trees must now be grafted or removed where the cut was flush to the ground. Waiting for the trees to regrow was not an option.

Mr Singh said the trees cost $10 each one year ago "and we have spent about $50 each on things like building the trellis, plus we have lost the next couple of years' production."

More than half of the trees in the latest attack were the same ones attacked in November, the consultant said.

"They have gone to a lot of trouble to do this damage, normally you would cut a tree at chest or shoulder height, but they have gone in very low.

"It is a premeditated attack because they have brought on lopers. They have attacked the tree in such a fashion that it is very difficult to graft again - they have been told where to target for maximum damage.

"This will take a toll for several years in terms of affecting cash flow, which is very hard on the family.

"This is a beautifully-run orchard - he is a very hard-working family man. They don't want to annoy anyone but they certainly are being annoyed by someone else."

Mr Singh has been farming for 15 years, eight years on the current site where he also operates Gagan's fruit and vegetable shop. He said he was unsure what to do next. "It is too much - I feel sick."

Police are still investigating the November attack - Hawke's Bay Today was recently asked by police to supply any pictures it took at the scene.

Police investigators were at Mr Singh's orchard yesterday.

Police spokeswoman Kris McGehan said CIB were investigating both attacks and Mr Singh would get a visit from the Flaxmere Community Constable.

Anyone with information is asked to phone Hastings police or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

- By Patrick O'Sullivan of Hawke's Bay Today

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