Cherries just a blade's breadth from your table

Adrian Vardanega says the rains right at harvest time have been a battle and hopes the hard work pays off and the rain stays away.

Adrian Vardanega says the rains right at harvest time have been a battle and hopes the hard work pays off and the rain stays away.

IF cherries are on your Christmas wish list, you may have to be prepared to pay a premium.

Adrian Vardanega, from Bestview Orchards, Canobolas, said the past week had been a battle and the Young district too has been hit hard by unexpected rain.

“We had 75 millimetres at the weekend and 30mm on Monday, 100mm for the week is enough,” he said, standing in the lee of a shed as gentle rain fell late Monday afternoon on an orchard near Millthorpe that he manages.

At the weekend they called in a helicopter to the Canobolas stand, to blow rain from the tops of the fruit, and again on Tuesday, twice.

A month ago Mr Vardanega, a second-generation orchardist, started laying down 100 kilograms to the hectare of calcium nitrate and upped his watering regime to lessen shock in anticipation of this wet burst.

From Saturday his phone rang incessantly, with anxious buyers wanting an update on conditions at his orchard - 1200m above sea level - because they had heard Young was in trouble.

If it wasn’t buyers calling it was nearby orchardists looking for a helicopter. Mr Vardanega expects a 90 to 100 tonnes off his five-and-a-half hectares of 11 different varieties of cherry trees that are bearing now, “as long as it doesn’t keep raining”.

He said he’d prefer it didn’t rain at all, and he could maintain a strict regime of frequent watering to a depth of about 300mm.

Standing with Mr Vardanega as the rain began to ease pon Monday was Leeva Liu, who watches over 11 hectares of cherries at the Millthorpe plantation for nine shareholders, one based in Australia, the other eight in China.

She said until a newly signed free trade agreement between Australia and China, cherries had travelled a roundabout route to the Chinese mainland known as the “Grey Train”, whereby they were shipped to neighbouring Asian countries and then travelled to the middle kingdom by various routes.

She said the price had been edging up each year, but now, with the FTA in place, both Mr Vardanega and Ms Liu were confident the Chinese middle class would be able to have access to the fruit at a more stable price.

Because Australia has such a good reputation for reliably fresh fruit, she said it is held in high regard. Mr Vardanega said fresh was key and it was quicker to have cherries in Hong Kong than Brisbane.

“We can have them from the tree to a marketplace in Hong Kong within 48 hours.”

Of the market’s outlook this year, he said Australia’s battle was one of constant oversupply for its population, meaning export was key. “It’s a sad fact that in Australian horticulture you really rely on other regions getting wiped out to get a good price.”

He said the Orange region was now growing more cherries than Young.