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New Zealand: Central Otago frost - disaster avoided

Central Otago winegrowers and orchardists are feeling "positive" about the upcoming season and are pleased to have dodged a bullet in the form of a once in a lifetime frost.

Central Otago Winegrowers Association president James Dicey said a "huge and highly unusual" frost throughout Central Otago on October 13 could have been catastrophic but ended up causing "very little damage" to the grapes.

Extremely dry air conditions at the time of the -5oC frost meant there was a "freeze" rather than a frost, Dicey said. The phenomenon had been "totally, 100% unheard of" for at least 60 years, but the unusual nature of the conditions meant there was very little damage and viticulturists had "dodged a bullet", only losing about 5% to 10% of grapes overall.

However, because indications had already been for high yields, the eventual harvest might still end up not being affected, Dicey said. "We had an amazingly hot summer last year ... and we’re coming in with a high potential crop load [for this summer]. If we have good flowering of fruitset in the first two to three weeks of December, we shouldn’t have any yield losses on balance."

Some orchardists have lost 10% to 20% of their cherry crop because of the October frosts, but  the resulting wider spacing of cherries on branches means the fruit may grow bigger, so tonnage could be about the same as last season.

According to¸ orchardists expect peach and nectarine crops to be similar to last year’s.

The first early variety cherries are expected to be harvested in the last week of November or first week of December, slightly later than during last year’s record early season.

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