Split fortunes for cherries

IT HAS been year of mixed fortunes for Tasmanian cherry growers but for some a combination of low fruit supply and a strong markets has produced some excellent returns.

Record wet conditions impacted growers in many regions causing crops losses and quality downgrades. John Brown from Sassafras orchard said their crop, which has just been picked, was very light this year. Picking at the orchard started a couple of weeks ago and has now wound up.

“Normally we’d be picking for about three weeks but we’ve had a 12-day season this year,” Mr Brown said. Mr Brown said cold and wet conditions during the peak pollination period combined with late frosts were most likely reasons behind this year’s smaller-than-average crop.

In the state’s south, Tim Reid from Reid Fruits said they were about to start picking their late-season orchard at Jericho. Mr Reid said a combination of pro-active management and some good luck had seen them have a very successful season so far. About three-quarters of the crop has now been picked and Mr Reid said they had managed to take advantage of excellent prices on both the domestic and export markets.

Lunar New Year is a critical time for many Tasmanian cherry exporters and this year it fell early in the season. Despite the challenges this presented, Mr Reid said they had managed to get a large proportion of the crop off in time to meet the exceptional market demand.

“We were very fortunate our main orchard is in the Derwent Valley at Plenty and we were able to bring the flowering on a little bit earlier than normal,” he said. “We managed to get the whole place harvested up there prior to the Lunar New Year, so the main orchard was completely done in time. We had lots of orders and the fruit was going out the door as fast as we could pack it and we were getting very good money for it.” Mr Reid said their Derwent Valley orchard had escaped the rain damage that had impacted other orchards around the state.

“We’ve got a way to go yet, but so far it’s probably been one of the best cherry seasons we’ve had,” he said. “Because the season was a little bit late in the southern hemisphere … we were getting really good prices in the early Asian markets. I can’t believe the money we’ve be been getting for cherries this year, even on the Australian market it had been really good this year. That’s because there just hasn’t been the fruit around, because it hasn’t been good for everyone, we were lucky.”

Unlike the last few years, Mr Reid said they also had plenty of labour this year which included a combination of locals, Pacific Islanders, local migrant communities and a number of backpackers. Mr Reid said overall they have had a medium-sized crop this year, which he said was ideal. “I’d call it a three-quarter crop, which is usually the best sort to have, you have better size and better quality,” he said.

Mr Reid said unfortunately some growers had not been as lucky, with wet weather impacting a lot of crops this year. “That’s the problem: you can do everything right to grow the best crop you can, but there’s still a lot of risk centred around the weather,” he said. “The weather was terrible into December then it just went bang and it has been fantastic since then.