Cautious hope for cherries

A THIRD consecutive La Nina weather event will potentially pile the pressure on cherry growers who face yet another season of delays in ripening and fruit splitting in the wetter, cooler conditions, but Tasmanian growers are facing the season with cautious optimism.

A recent report from Rabobank Australia said with a third consecutive La Nina underway, there lies a greater risk of fruit loss and a subsequent shortage coming into the summer season, something RaboResarch analyst Pia Piggott said was evident in last year’s rain-soaked season, which saw crop volumes down 15 per cent.

“The major cherry-production states of New South Wales and Victoria were particularly affected by cherry splitting caused by above-average rainfall in November 2021, resulting in the volume of exports from these states being down by 51 per cent and 32 per cent year-on-year respectively,” she said.

“The combination of adverse weather events in Australia, together with transport and logistical challenges during the 2021/22 cherry season, saw decreased exports to key markets, particularly to China, where exports fell 68 per cent year-on-year.”

Ms Piggott said this comes as overall fruit price inflation is at high levels in Australia, primarily due to the impacts of recent wet weather conditions on production and supply.

“The latest September quarter Consumer Price Index data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows annual fruit price inflation now sitting at 14.6 per cent,” Ms Piggott said.

“With peak domestic cherry consumption coinciding with Christmas, late season rain will likely cause lower-than-average supply of the festive fruit, supporting higher prices for growers, but potentially seeing shoppers pay more.”

In Tasmania, cherry growers like Peter Woodhouse of Kings Rock Cherries are facing the potential challenges with a guarded positivity.

“Most growers have come through a wet winter and the idea of a wet summer ahead can look a bit scary, Mr Woodhouse said. “However, we have learnt a lot and our resilience to a wet season is a lot better than it was 10 seasons ago, there’s a lot of science at play in crop protection,” he said.

“There’s also been a lot of investment in drainage and rain covers this year, but as always, it’s labour that will likely still be an issue.

Tim Reid, of Reid Fruits, said the weather had so far been rather kind to southern cherry growers.

“We haven’t had enough rain to make a huge difference.

We’re always worried about rain events, when it gets closer to harvest, it can still effect the cherries you’re picking but over the last few years we’ve gotten through pretty well,” Mr Reid said.

“This year the ground is wet, but it hasn’t had any effect on the crops, the warm weather is making the fruit growth rate very strong.”

Mr Reid also said the return of backpackers and university students were making for stronger seasonal worker numbers than in previous years.

“At the moment, it looks like we’ve got plenty of locals in the orchards as well as students from Hobart and a base of workers from the PALM scheme, who we had a really good first-year experience with last season.

“Hopefully the weather stays kind to us from here on.

“At the moment it’s shaping up all right.”