'Not a happy time' as cherries lost

JESSICA MADDOCK AND CHE BAKER
Last updated 11:28 16/01/2013

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Three bouts of heavy rain in Central Otago since New Year have destroyed up to 50 per cent of some cherry varieties.

Sarita Orchard manager Duncan Mathers, of Cromwell, said the rain had affected some varieties more than others, and its impact had also varied greatly throughout the district.

His orchard, at the entrance to the Kawarau Gorge, lost 50 per cent of the "Lapins" variety during the downpour at New Year. The loss equated to about 10 tonnes of cherries, or 10 per cent of the orchard's total crop. "It's not a happy time."

Mr Mathers said the other variety of cherry he grew that was affected by the rain was "Sweetheart", but the storms during the past week had been too brief to cause much damage.

Central Cherries owner and manager Jack Peszynski said his orchard on the Cromwell-Luggate road received 6.5cm of rain during the three storms. The rain at New Year was the most prolonged and therefore caused the greatest

amount of damage. Varieties of cherries reacted differently to the downpour. At his orchard, the "Stella Compact" variety was the worst affected, with 20 to 25 per cent of the crop wiped out. That equated to about three tonnes, or 3 per cent of the orchard's total crop.

The "Skeena" variety was also affected, but to a lesser extent. "Other varieties we haven't picked yet. Some are showing considerable damage. Others are showing no damage."

The total cost of the damage would not be known until the end of the season, because some rain-damaged cherries may be downgraded to "second grade" meaning they could not be sold to lucrative export markets.

"The local market pays very little compared to export. We still get something, but not what we would expect."

He said cherry season had been "average", but it was better than the previous two, when his orchard lost 80 to 90 per cent of the entire crop.

"It wasn't pretty. Compared to that, this year has been better.

"But, put it this way, at best I would characterise it as an average season. I would not call it a good season."

Jackson and Freeway Orchards owner Mark Jackson said his businesses, both near Cromwell, were also "hammered" by the rain at New Year but, fortunately, 90 per cent of their cherries had already been picked and he lost only 20 per cent of what was still on the trees. The loss equated to about 2 tonnes, or 4 per cent of the orchards' total crop.

Mr Jackson was now focusing on apricots, which benefited from the rain.

Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and Roxburgh fruit grower Gary Bennetts said the rain was a blow for cherry growers, who were already suffering from a lighter crop this season. He estimated that 20 to 40 per cent of this year's harvest would be rain-damaged.

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- The Mirror

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