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Australia: Sweet times in Young as cherry season begins

It's that time of year where fruit stalls pop up on the side of the road offering sweet and juicy delights. One those fruits in season at the moment is the cherry and the town of Young in the Central West is celebrating.

The National Cherry Festival is in its 58th year this year and Young locals are as excited as ever. However, orchardists are still grappling with the effects of the drought.

At this time of year, there seems to be no visible effects of the drought on the orchard with cherry trees laden with fruit and plum trees with plums due to ripen in the new year. But as orchardsit Arna Hay drives around to the dam, the effects become more visible. More a puddle than a dam, its levels haven't been remotely close to its 200 megalitre capacity in three years.

Mrs Hay says this season's yield has been slightly lower than the last and there's still been tough decisions to make. Mrs Hay and her husband have had to take stock and plan new ways of running the orchard. This has included pulling out old orchards to make way for new plants. The Hays have also moved into earthmoving to cover the costs of the orchard.

Even though it's a still a challenging time in the cherry industry, the packing room is still buzzing as seasonal workers pack boxes full of cherries destined for supermarket fruit displays around Australia.

Mrs Hay explains that the process involved in packing cherries is one that her team of seasonal workers need to be meticulous about. We look at the size grading machine first, which is a large machine that takes up a large portion of the packing shed floor. It basically looks like a bunch of spinning metal holey barrels leading onto conveyor belts which drop the cherries in big plastic punnets according to size. The machine is particularly important because the supermarkets order specific sizes of cherries to sell. Watching the cherries roll around and go down the conveyor belt is almost hypnotising.

From there the cherries get put on a conveyor belt where workers sort through the cherries, looking for any blemished or imperfect cherries to throw away. The workers are so incredibly focussed they don't even notice us walking around the packing shed floor.

At the end of the conveyor belt, the cherries drop into cardboard boxes lined with a special plastic bag that will help the cherries last up to 28 days if they're kept below two degrees celsius. Another worker watches the cherries fall into the boxes to make sure they're evenly layered to prevent brusing or damage while they're being transported.

Once the box has been filled, it's weighed to make sure the box has exactly five kilograms of cherries. If there's too many cherries, they'll be loaded into the next box waiting to be weighed.

Another last check is made and then they're stacked on a palette, ready to go into cold storage until truck comes to take it to your local supermarket.

The seasonal fruit industry boosts the Young economy for at least a month, tourism is well up with 10,000 visitors coming through the town during the festival. Because the industry employs seasonal workers, mainly university students, accomodation gets fully booked for well over a month.

The National Cherry Festival has a massive program that includes a farmer's market, a street parade and a Celtic tattoo spectacular. Visitors can also visit local orchard and pick their own cherries. But they are advised to call ahead and book a time to pick cherries. The festival starts on Friday the 30th of November and goes through until Sunday the 2nd of December.


Publication date: 11/27/2007


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