NZ: Cherry growers 'on the edge of their seats'

Central Otago cherries are still on the menu for Christmas, although growers were "on the edge of their seats" at the weekend as the first significant rainfall in more than a month hit the ripening crop.

While the district's farmers were delighted by the rain falling on their parched land, cherry growers were less enthusiastic.

Helicopters were out in fruit-growing areas on Saturday and again yesterday morning, drying cherry trees after the steady rain eased off. The rainfall varied from about 20mm in Cromwell through to about 30mm in Roxburgh.

The cherry crop was the main concern and growers in areas which received the most rain say it is too soon to gauge any damage. Summerfruit New Zealand chairman and Roxburgh orchardist, Gary Bennetts, said the only redeeming factor was that it had remained cold and windy after the rainfall. Had it been followed by hot weather, there was more chance the fruit would split.

Earnscleugh orchardist, Harry Roberts, agreed it was lucky the weather was cold.

"This is always a worrying time for growers and cherry growers are on the edge of their seats if it rains.

"Big dollops of rain like this are just a bloody nuisance ... it's a heartache for growers."

Stephen Jeffery, of Fairview Orchard, Roxburgh, said the temperature dropped to 2 degrees overnight on Saturday.

"That was a bit of a saviour, having cold weather, it means the cherries might not suck up too much moisture.

"Things were looking good for the season - up until the rain. Most varieties had good crops so we're hoping we don't get too many more days of rain."

The good news is there are still plenty of Central Otago cherries around for Christmas.

45 South owns and manages more than 150ha of orchards in Cromwell, which produce 30-40 per cent of New Zealand's export cherries. Company manager Tim Jones said their trees had come through 20mm of rain "pretty unscathed".

"It was significant rain, at any time of the year, for Central Otago, but we're almost between varieties and our volumes won't start peaking until the first week in January.

"With that rain, if it doesn't crack the fruit, it will help boost the size of them."

Central Otago farmers contacted yesterday welcomed the rain.

Andrew Paterson, of Matakanui Station at Omakau, said the 16mm which fell on his property was "sorely needed".

"Things were getting quite desperate in my corner and this was the first decent rain since mid-November. All we need now is another good rainfall."


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