Cherry farmers in South Australia are grappling with the most challenging harvest in half a century, experiencing significant losses of up to 70% due to wild pre-Christmas storms. The adverse weather conditions, including heavy rain and storms, also impacted New South Wales cherries, leading growers to discard hundreds of tonnes of fruit. Conversely, the mango season faced challenges arising from a warm and dry winter.
Grant Piggott, the CEO of Fruit Producers SA, highlighted that three storms swept through cherry production areas, with the latest one hitting when cherries were ripe. The industry, as a whole, suffered a substantial loss of 60-70%, marking one of the most challenging periods in the last 50 years. Cherries, being sensitive to moisture, faced difficulties in the exceptionally wet conditions, particularly in the Adelaide Hills, where rainfall doubled the December average within a five-day period.
The repercussions of the challenging harvest were reflected in the prices, reaching up to $50 per kilo in the days leading up to Christmas. Despite the adversity, Piggott noted a somewhat optimistic turn, mentioning that advancements in sorting methods and grading equipment have helped salvage more cherries. Investments in technology, including camera processes for sorting, allowed growers to identify and eliminate damaged cherries, ensuring that a higher percentage of quality fruit reaches the market.
In New South Wales, Fiona Hall, a cherry supplier, recounted having to abandon a significant portion of the crop due to extensive damage caused by untimely rain. The rainfall filled the cherries with water, leading to skin splits and rendering them unsuitable for market.
In contrast, Tasmania experienced a more positive outcome, with reports of a successful harvest featuring bumper crops. Fruit Growers of Tasmania noted that warm, sunny days facilitated an early and prolonged ripening process, resulting in larger, darker, and sweeter cherries compared to the previous year.
Amidst the challenges faced by cherry growers in certain regions, the varying outcomes across Australia underscore the unpredictable nature of agriculture and the resilience required to navigate the impact of weather conditions on fruit production.