Harvest season proving frustrating

Cliff Richards, of Vanuatu, picks Sundrop apricots at Clyde yesterday. The fruit is destined for the domestic market. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
Cliff Richards, of Vanuatu, picks Sundrop apricots at Clyde yesterday. The fruit is destined for the domestic market. Photo by Lynda van Kempen.
Central Otago orchardists say the weather has made it a ''frustrating '' season so far, but they are hopeful the latest soaking of rain has caused little damage to ripening cherry and apricot crops. Helicopters were out in force in the fruit-growing areas at dawn yesterday morning.

Growers called them in to hover over export cherry crops and dry the fruit after heavy rain overnight. Most of the district was bathed in sun during the day and warm winds hastened the drying process, hopefully preventing the cherries from splitting, Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and Roxburgh fruit grower Gary Bennetts said.

''From what I've heard, the growers tell me that this latest lot of rain hasn't caused too much damage to cherries, compared with the January 2 rain,'' he said. There was ''quite a bit'' of damage to the cherry crop from the earlier prolonged downpour but it was difficult to assess the toll until the harvest was completed.

The cherry and apricot harvest in Central Otago was starting ''full steam'' and he believed the export volume of cherries would remain on par with the amount exported last season. Apricots had been relatively unscathed by the recent rain and although the crop was lighter than in other years - ''it's not what I'd call a vintage crop'' - returns were good for growers. Kevin Paulin, of Clyde Orchards, said apricot returns from the domestic market were on par with export returns for the fruit this year.

''We're about a third of the way through the harvest and we're concentrating on the local market this year. There's quite a gap in the domestic market as the Hawkes Bay apricot crop was early and was all gone by Christmas, so that's helped boost the demand for Central Otago apricots.'' he said.

The rain last week affected some of the cherry blocks in the 20ha grown by Clyde Orchards and Mr Paulin said the damage was patchy, depending on the variety. He estimated it ranged from 10% damage through to 40% in some blocks.

He agreed with Mr Bennetts that the weather this season had been frustrating for orchardists.

''Some more sunshine would be good, with nice calm warm days and nights.''

Mr Bennetts said more heat was needed, as the nights had been unusually cold.

''The weather pattern has been frustrating, with the long series of frosts early in the season, then the snow, the rain and cold nights.''

Hugh Dendy, of Cromwell, said exports from his 35ha of cherries began this week and the 25mm of rain did not appear to have caused any damage. He was exporting Sylvia cherries to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand. Although new markets were always being explored, Mr Bennetts said most of Central Otago's export cherries went to Asian customers. Returns looked like being similar to last year's ''profitable returns'', he said. The peach and nectarine harvest is also under way. Many Central Otago orchardists grew late variety nectarines, so the harvest would continue into late February.

- lynda.van.kempen@odt.co.nz