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South Australian cherries finish summer harvest strongly after challenging growing season

The South Australian cherry season has ended with the very late season varieties finishing off well, with cleaner fruit and warm, dry weather, according to the state’s peak representative body.

Despite some weather and pest issues, Cherry Growers Association of South Australia Executive Officer Susie Green says production this year provided good fruit set in most orchards. The early crop was looking very promising in spring, with an above average crop forecast.

“After the good start, the growing season threw up several challenges,” she said. “A hailstorm swept across the Adelaide Hills region on November 21, with a number of growers reporting quite a bit of damage, while others missed out. Cool and damp conditions in late November and into December pushed the season a little bit late, and impacted on varieties ready for harvest just prior to Christmas. Growers reported poor packouts in the lead up to Christmas. However, the biggest challenge to growers was unprecedented pressures from birds and fruit bats, with complete losses in some blocks where netting was not put out early and significant losses under some blocks with throw-over net. Therefore, while overall yields were good, packouts were down on expected due to a combination of the above. The varieties picked early into the new year were also affected by cool damp conditions with firmness being the main issue.”

Ms Green adds that it is a little early to forecast exact volumes, with harvest only just finished.

“We will hold a postharvest meeting with growers in mid-February, which will give the opportunity to hear first-hand from growers the final assessment of the season,” she said. “(But) growers have reported lower than expected packouts for the majority of the season.”

The market to China opening up in 2018 created some good opportunities, with a number of growers reporting favourable outcomes from exports not just into China but also into other areas of Asia.

“The volume of exports fluctuates each year depending on the season and the amount of export quality fruit available,” Ms Green said. “We will have a better understanding of the volumes of exports from SA once the data is available, however indications are that export volumes are well up on last year.”

The most common varieties grown in South Australia in recent years are Stella, Lapins and Simone, which Ms Green says are generally reliable in production, eat well and are well suited to the region.

“However, growers are always looking at new varieties, particularly those that will suit the market windows of opportunity for their timing of production and quality, as well as produce reliably,” she said. “They also tend to grow a number of varieties to lengthen the picking season and spread their risks. There is no one single new variety at present that is dominating new plantings.”

Cherry Growers SA also says the number of growers in the state has remained fairly steady in recent years, however production volumes are increasing somewhat with new plantings coming into production.

“Traditional export markets are now very competitive,” Ms Green said. “As the industry regains market access into markets where access has been lost over the last decade or so, growers are having to adapt to the new protocols which require treatments for pests of concern. It will take the industry a few years to fully develop new systems which incorporate the treatments and deliver a premium product into the market. As this happens, there is good growth potential, however growers would prefer to see steady growth until we can fully capitalise on these market opportunities.”

Another driver for the state’s cherry growers is that the pick your own orchards and shed door sales continue to be very popular with consumers.

“There were 24 orchards participating on this year’s Fresh Cherries Map, which is a map that show consumers and tourists where they can source fresh cherries direct from the grower,” Ms Green said. “This is also available as the Fresh Cherries App, which also shows which orchards are open on which days.”

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Susie Green
Cherry Growers Association of South Australia