Berry thieves warned to see doc as booty sprayed

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 07:47 10/01/2014
Sommerville Orchard owner Sandy Williams, left, and sister-in-law Sharleen Eaton are upset after thieves stole some of their fruit, only hours after a hail storm destroyed much of the crop.
DEREK FLYNN/Fairfax NZ

DOUBLE BLOW: Sommerville Orchard owner Sandy Williams, left, and sister-in-law Sharleen Eaton are upset after thieves stole some of their fruit, only hours after a hail storm destroyed much of the crop.

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Five men busted stealing strawberries from a Marlborough grower were warned by police to go to hospital as the fruits had been sprayed with a pesticide and fungicide days earlier.

The men were spotted at Sommerville Orchard on Murrays Rd in Grovetown about 7.30pm on Wednesday.

Sommerville Orchard owners Sandy and Rhys Williams said anyone who ate the strawberries before the spray was flushed out of the fruit could experience vomiting, diarrhoea and numb lips.

Mrs Williams said it was difficult to tell how many strawberries were stolen, but she hoped the crops weren't harmed by the men tearing into them.

They were just coming into peak strawberry season, which ended in April, she said.

The orchard also grew cherries, peaches, apricots and nectarines.

It was the fourth time this season that the orchard had been targeted by thieves. Cherries were stolen three times around Christmas, she said.

Constable Andrew Holdaway, of Blenheim, said police tracked the registration of a ute to a man in Blenheim. Police warned him to go to hospital to get checked out.

However, no charges would be laid, Mr Holdaway said

It was a bad day for the orchard after crops were pummeled in a hail storm hours earlier, Mrs Williams said.

The couple had gathered with family members for a barbecue about 100 metres from the orchard after the storm cut electricity at their 2-hectare property.

Hail the size of thumbnails wreaked havoc on the strawberry crops and the shop flooded after the storm hit about 4pm.

The last thing they needed was people stealing their strawberries, Mrs Williams said.

"It's a family business," she said. "We're trying to get ahead."

Mr Williams' sister, Sharleen Eaton, who also worked at the orchard, said the men appeared to be in their early 20s.

Four family members went off to find the thieves and saw two men still picking strawberries. Three other men were waiting in a white Mitsubishi ute on Murrays Rd. The two men crossed through the orchard and leapt over a barbed wire fence on State Highway 1, Mrs Eaton said.

The driver of the ute picked them up and they sped off before police arrived.

"We work bloody hard every day," she said. "We were annihilated with the hail, and then to deal with that. That's what gutted me the most."

Other vineyards and orchards in Marlborough did not appear to have been affected by the hail.

Jennie Crum, of Windsong organic orchard in Renwick, said she was grateful the hail missed her plums.

The orchard had lost a few plums to wind this season but it was nothing compared to last year, she said.

"I haven't heard anyone complain about damage so far," she said.

"The season's been very kind to us."

Saint Clair Family Estate managing director Neal Ibbotson said there was a bit of hail at their vineyard on Rapaura Rd but fruit had not been damaged.

"I've only seen hail damage once since we planted our vines in 1978," he said.

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- The Marlborough Express

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