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Growers get the pip

One deluge of biblical proportions can be mitigated, but multiple back-to-back rain events have wreaked havoc, leaving Wairarapa’s growers feeling the pinch. MARY ARGUE reports.

The region’s horticulturists needed no confirmation that last winter was the wettest on record, and as the rain continued during the following months, their trepidation grew.

Now, at a time when growers should be reaping their rewards, yields are down and harvesting inconsistent, with concern that another wet year will be catastrophic for some, and the final nail in the coffin for others.

Pinehaven Orchards’ Steve Meyrick said the past 12 months were the wettest he could remember.

“We had 1788 millimetres of rain in our gauge for the year. And we’ve had a pretty wet January.

“It’s mainly stone fruit that has been affected. They didn’t come into spring and jump into flower very well.

“Some of our plums might be 10 per cent of a normal harvest.”

In addition to the plums, Meyrick said peaches, nectarines, and peacharines had been hit hard.

“Some varieties are slightly better, one block might be 70 per cent there, but it’s pretty frustrating.”

He said the major problem for growers was that investments were made in anticipation of a good harvest.

However, it was nearly impossible to mitigate the impact of persistent rain.

“It takes years to grow something until you can pick it, you’ve got all the pruning and spraying. You spend all your costs upfront before you harvest.

“Then when you get there, and the yield is low … it’s not good.”

Meyrick was philosophical about the challenges, however.

“We are in the game of growing under nature’s umbrella. There is always a disaster somewhere,” he said.

“As long as we don’t have another year like it … that would be catastrophic.”

Down the road in Papawai, JR Orchards owner John Van Vliet said he had never seen a year like it in three-and-a-half decades.

“It’s been one out of the bag. It broke all different types of records. It’s the worst flowering I’ve seen, all spread out.

“I gave up 11 hectares. It’s just not worth spending all the time and cost. The writing is on the wall for a lot of these lease blocks.”

Surprisingly, the apple yield had not suffered, although he had grave concerns about his storage capability.

“It’s been too wet and too cold. They must be kept at zero in the cool store, and pears at negative 0.5.”

Van Vliet said the results of an upcoming cool store analysis would determine whether produce had to be shipped early.

“Last year was terrible for shipping. Prices went up three-fold on containers, and availability was bugger all. It looks like it will be the same this year. They’re holding us to ransom.”

He said the silver lining was that there were fewer pests, and irrigation – which usually begins in November – was only becoming necessary now.

“That’s a saving in time and money, although if it’s detrimental at the other end, it’s not really worth it.

“But you can’t bitch and moan too much. Drought is no fun for anybody, and someone’s got to take the hit.”

Berry producers were also feeling the wet weather’s effects, with Masterton’s Wee Red Barn reporting an inconsistent season.

“Everything is slower to ripen,” said owner Dot Bissett. “The temperature needs to be higher than 7 degrees.”

Despite growing in tunnels, the colder wet days resulted in delays in harvesting as the temperatures dropped.

“Right now, it’s going in fits and bursts. Usually, the season is consistent across the board. But this year, there have been more peaks and troughs.”

The sopping year has seen growers around New Zealand reporting challenges with harvesting and low yields, with Niwa noting the wet weather is characteristic of La Nina weather systems.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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