New Zealand: Orchard owners fear for Hawke's Bay stone fruit after storm

A Hawke's Bay orchard owner says Tuesday’s hailstorm that hit the region was the heaviest in 20 years, and could have significant consequences for the summer fruit season.

The McPhail family has owned and operated the boutique orchard on the south side of Napier city since 1997. They produce a range of diverse products including berry fruit, cherries, summer fruit and subtropicals. Ruby Glen Orchard owner Doug McPhail said the one blessing of the storm, which coated Napier in hail and caused flooding in Flaxmere, was that it wasn't two weeks later.

With the season under way, cherry blossoms could be the crop most hurt by the storm. "Cherries are in blossom. Some in 100 per cent blossom, some in 50 to 80 per cent blossom. Our cherries are reasonably well-protected because of netting, which broke the impact of the fall of the hail. But we won't know the extent of damage done for a week or two yet."

McPhail said when they did fully inspect the blossoms they would be looking at a couple of key things. "The first would be - have the bees done the pollination? The bees should be working flat out right now, I don't know how they will react once they see the petals blown off with hail. I would also be looking at whether hail has knocked the baby fruit right inside the flower. How much bruising is done is key. The plants now need to recover from the bruising they have had. You can see little bits of leaves punctured off at the bottom of the trees." 

Hail blew some blossom flowers "clean off".
Chief executive of New Zealand Apple & Pears Allan Pollard said early varieties of pip fruit could have been affected by the sustained hail on Tuesday: "It's a bit early to tell. We have a lot of orchards in Meanee, Napier, where the hail seemed to have hit the hardest and early varieties could have been affected because of early flowering, with the flowers being knocked off."

According to nzherald.co.nz, he believed stone fruit growers would have been the worst affected.


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