Growers berry hopeful

19:39, Dec 18 2012
berry hopeful
Berry grower Glen Holland with a mechanical harvester ready to pick this season crop of boysenberries.

Nelson boysenberry growers will be casting nervous looks skyward over the next few weeks as they harvest what is shaping to be an excellent crop.

Bad weather has blighted the last few harvests but the prospects look brighter this year with an earlier and larger crop, a more settled forecast and a market short of fruit after the withdrawal of major growers Ranzau Horticulture and Berry Fields earlier this year, who quit after several years of poor returns.

This has pushed prices up, but whether grower-exporters will reap the full benefit depends on the strength of the New Zealand dollar.

Handpicking has been going on for a week or so, but machine harvesting began in earnest just a few days ago and is expected to last for a month.

Much of it is done at night when it is easier to take the berries off.

Glen Holland, of Tasman Bay Berry Company, who has 38 hectares to pick and will employ 60 people to do it, said his crop looked ''a boomer'' but he would not relax until it was all in.

Botrytis badly affected his berries last year, ''so we are very aware that it can change very rapidly''.

However, if the weather held he expected to get a satisfactory 18-20 tonne of fruit per hectare, he said.

It had been a much more normal growing season with plenty of winter chilling, Mr Holland said.

The long dry spell since flowering in October had produced plenty of clean fruit of a good size.

There had also been fewer damaging winds.

Sujon Berries had again agreed to take almost all of his fruit at slightly improved prices.

With more than a third less fruit around, there were a lot of buyers looking for fruit, he said.

It had justified his decision to lease much of Berry Fields' gardens on Lower Queen St.

Stephen Sutton, of Daelyn, said the kinder weather was welcome after the downpours and gales of the past couple of years.

Fruit quality and yield were both up as a result.

In all, the company would harvest 22ha of boysenberries and 1ha of raspberries, with half the fruit being exported.

''Hopefully prices will be better, but again the exchange rate makes any exporting of fruit tough.''

Berryfruit Export New Zealand chairman and Wai-West Horticulture director Julian Raine said he expected better yields after a couple of ''shocker'' years.

''It looks a good, solid crop.''

Export prices were higher as demand outstripped supply and some exporters had tried to offset the effect of exchange rates by doing some deals in New Zealand dollars, he said.

It was too early to say whether there would be enough fruit to satisfy all overseas customers , although some growers had begun planting more canes to make up for the loss of almost 80 ha pulled out when Ranzau and Berry Fields called it quits, he said.

Wai-West now had 26ha.