Douglas fir seed harvest to help trust

West Otago has embraced an unusual fundraiser - harvesting Douglas fir seeds.

The West Otago Health Trust is calling for volunteers to help harvest Douglas fir seeds over a six-day period.

Trust chairman Allister Body said forestry company Ernslaw One, which has a Douglas fir seed orchard at Ettrick, offered the harvesting of this year's crop of cones as a fundraiser. The trust is seeking 20 volunteers each day, for six days.

''This is a very generous offer from Ernslaw One as this fundraiser is expected to raise around $40,000 for our new facility.''

Ernslaw One seed orchard manager Lance Freer, of Tapanui, said harvesting was usually done on contract.

''It's an opportunity for Ernslaw One to do its bit for the community.''

Ernslaw One has a 10ha seed orchard at Ettrick with about 4000 Douglas fir trees. Trees were selected from the best trees in the forest to grow the best seed crop.

Staff were keeping an eye on the crop, but as yet did not have a set date for harvesting.

There was only a 10-day window for harvesting seed, Mr Freer said.

''It's a bit like any fruit crop really. We only have a small window to do it.''

He said a bumper crop had been expected this year, until heavy frosts in November destroyed about 50% of it.

Unlike fruit orchardists, who spray water to protect blossoms from frost damage, there was no way to fight frosts in the seed orchards.

Ernslaw One initially expected 1200 sacks to be harvested. That figure dropped to 690 after the November frosts. Only 400 sacks full are expected to be gathered by trust volunteers.

The trust estimated a six-day harvest but Mr Freer said it could take 10 days.

Volunteers are required to work 8am to 5pm in teams to collect cones from the trees. About 80% of the cones were harvested from ground level allowing people of all ages and abilities to take part, Mr Body said.

Full instruction and a daily briefing will be given to all volunteers by Ernslaw One staff. The trust will arrange car pooling from Tapanui and Heriot.

''We need a good turnout to make this work ... so please get involved,'' Mr Body said.

Anyone interested in helping harvest the seeds can contact convener Andrew Morris (03) 205-8831.

- helena.dereus@odt.co.nz