Splitting headache: Heavy rain damages 2017 North East Victoria cherry crop but season not a complete write-off

The region’s 2017 cherry crop has held up to last week’s heavy rain better than expected.

Growers reported increased splitting, and some losses, but not a complete harvest wipeout.

Whorouly farmer Frank Primerano, who grows blueberries and cherries and runs cattle, said his cherries were hardest hit when more than 100mm of rain fell.

“The blueberries panned out OK, the cherries copped the worst,” he said.

“We’d probably salvage something out of the small cherries and red cherries … the sweeter cherries and the large cherries are the worst. 

“Anything with good colour, good size, generally your premium cherries, have enormous cracks in them.”

At Eldorado Orchards, grower Stefan Heintjes expected to lose about 25 per cent of his six hectare crop.

“There was a fair bit of rain, it’s bad but not too bad – it could have been very worse,” he said, “We lost about a quarter … but we’ll still be all right to fulfill our markets. We got lucky I guess.”

Bill Hotson, Hotson’s Cherries Chiltern, bought in a helicopter on Sunday morning to give his fruit a blow dry after 78mm fell on his trees.

We lost about a quarter … We got lucky I guess

Stefan Heintjes, Eldorado Orchards

Mr Hotson, who has been picking for several weeks, was confident there’d be quality supply in the weeks leading to Christmas and the New Year but said rot was the major concern.

“It’s warm humid conditions that really promote it,” he said at the start of the week.

“The cherries are looking pretty good at the moment and no doubt the next few days we’ll get a better indication. In our very ripe cherries, the very large ones, there was some cracking but it was minimal.”

For croppers, the waiting is the hardest part.

While widespread and varied rain will most likely lead to crop damage and quality downgrades, it has also left paddocks too wet to drive on.

“It didn’t rain for eight weeks from mid-August to mid-October and then since then it’s actually been quite wet ... and with these harvesters over 20 tonnes it’s just impossible to get on,” said Roy Hamilton, who recorded 120mm over a week between Rand and Urana.

“We don’t think we’ll get anything done this week. It’s not very great drying weather with these showers around.

“Getting back on the ground is probably the biggest issue now.”

It was a similar story further west.

“We’re waiting for the grain to be dry enough to harvest and then that we don’t get bogged,” said Fiona Marshall, who has about 3000 hectares under crop with her husband Greg at Rennie

“I think we’re all a little bit relieved we were expecting it to be a lot worse with the forecasts.”