Central Otago's cherry season is off to a bad start with rain damaging crops, cold temperatures slowing ripening and bad picking conditions driving workers away. According to Tim Jones, Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and chief executive of Cromwell-based orchard 45 South, this tough start to the season was one of the most challenging he had seen in his 25 years in the industry.
At 45 South, about 250 tonnes would typically be picked around the New Year period. This year, they picked 100 tonnes. Early-season fruit were affected by rain damage and then the cooler weather, which slowed ripening. "It's been pretty quiet. Some people have moved on because there was not so much work. The fruit is still on the tree, it has just not ripened yet," Jones said.
With favourable weather forecast over the next few weeks, growers are ramping up for picking the mid-season cherries leading up to the Chinese New Year on January 25. "We will have a pretty good run at it now. Early-season stuff was damaged, but the mid-season varieties are looking a lot better."
Prior to Christmas the bulk of cherries remained in the domestic market. Post-New Year about 80 per cent of cherries would be exported, Jones said. Export crop volume grown around Central Otago was typically around 4000 to 5000 tonnes, but it was not a particularly heavy crop this year.