Apple growers want rain

The recent dry spell has been good for this season's apple crop, although more rain is needed, says Agfirst consultant Steven Spark.

Orchards required 25-40mm before Christmas to keep the growing season on track, otherwise ''we will be in a little bit of trouble'', he said.

Ground conditions were more like February and growers had been irrigating heavily as  southwesterly winds had sucked out a lot of moisture.

After a very wet August and September, the dry weather over the last couple of months had enabled growers to catch up on their orchard work, Mr Spark said.

It had also meant a good flowering and fruit set and had reduced disease and pest pressure, with less black spot and european canker infection. There appeared to be less russet on fruit.

As a result, crops were looking cleaner and fruit size better than last season when difficult growing conditions produced a lot of small fruit and yields, he said.

Chemical thinning had been more successful in reducing the need for much hand work, apart from thinning for quality.

However, frost and hail had been more of a problem this season, with the worst of the hailstorms last month causing nearly 50 per cent damage to several orchards on the Waimea Plains, Mr Spark said.

It was too early to tell if the growers could thin or grow out the affected fruit, but they were insured.

It was also unclear what effect colder-than-normal spring temperatures would have on fruit size, although it was looking OK, he said.

 ''Generally growers are pretty happy after the wet start in August and September which really put us on the backfoot for quite awhile.

We needed this dry period to catch up but  now it's going a bit too far.''

Redwood Valley grower Bill Lynch said the wet start to spring had made it very challenging for growers combating fungal diseases, but the dry weather since had taken the pressure off.

''Dry weather generally produces excellent fruit quality and it allows us to control the amount of surplus vigour in the trees,'' he said.

''If it rains every week you have no show. You need just enough to keep the fruit size up.''

At this stage the crop looked ''magnificent'', although the cold start could affect early varieties, he said.