Losses not all bad for orchardists

Brooke MacKenzie (16), of Alexandra, displays  rain-affected Sundrop apricots and Sweetheart...
Brooke MacKenzie (16), of Alexandra, displays rain-affected Sundrop apricots and Sweetheart cherries at Hinton's packhouse in Alexandra. Photo by Sarah Marquet.

Despite crops suffering heavy losses because of the recent rain, Central Otago orchardists remain relatively upbeat, but warn the local market may be affected.

Roxburgh orchardist Dave Crook said pickers on his orchards were having to clean their ladders hourly because of all the bad fruit on the ground making a mess.

"A lot of people have had pickers just dropping fruit on the ground because it is so bad."

He said he was fortunate to have a contract to sell some damaged fruit to jam-makers, which meant he could afford to continue picking, but estimated he had lost about 25% of his crop.

"But we're orchardists - life goes on."

He said he was making $4 per kg for apricots and $10 for cherries on the export market and with the loss of fruit, that would be a "vast fortune wiped out of the Central Otago economy".

"It's a big blow to an industry that is already very tight. I won't be taking an overseas holiday this year."

He said local markets would be most affected by the shortage of fruit.

"There's going to be quite a shortage of apricots in the supermarkets in two to three days. It will be hard for local markets to find apricots."

Summerfruit New Zealand chairman Gary Bennetts said the full effects would not be known until the end of the season "because there are so many orchards and so many different situations" but it would affect both local and export markets. The fruit that would have gone to export would now help fill processors' needs.

Barker's, for example, bought a lot of apricots to make jams and other products.

Hugh Dendy, who has 35ha of cherries at Lowburn, estimated he had lost about 40% of his fruit in total but for some of the worst affected varieties such as Lapin cherries that was up to 70%.

"It's a risk that always happens. You can't get too upset." Ettrick orchardist Wes Reichel said he had escaped rather lightly as he did not have too many apricots or cherries, and the plums, which make up the bulk of his crop "love the weather".

Kevin Paulin, who has orchards at Clyde and Bannockburn said his cherry crop was "probably not too bad" as he was "pretty well through" them, but he had noticed a bit of water damage on some later variety apricots such as Clutha Gold.

"But we're hoping once we get through the first pick, it will be good ... it's still a bit too early to tell."

Seasonal Solutions manager Craig Howard said despite the losses, there was no shortage of work for seasonal workers.

"Yes there's split fruit, but there's good fruit in there and it's probably too early to say what the growers are going to do about that."



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