Workers install wires for shadecloth

Workers install wires for shadecloth at MA Orchards’ Kerrytown Rd orchard on November 5 – before a hailstorm damaged fruit.

A South Canterbury orchard company says a hailstorm that arrived when it was installing protective cloth might cost it up to two thirds of its apple crop.

Substantial hailstones damaged M A Orchards’ crop of Honeycrisp apples on Kerrytown Rd on Wednesday, before workers could finish installing shadecloth structures to protect the fruit.

M A Orchards director Bruce Allen said yesterday the company was still assessing the extent of damage to the 19 hectare block, which had been expected to produce around 680 tonnes of Honeycrisp apples this year. Allen said workers might be able to selectively thin young, hail-damaged fruit.

However, “if it’s truly catastrophic” it was possible the company would not harvest fruit at the site because its residual value for juicing would be too low. The orchard represented two thirds of the company’s Honeycrisp crop.

Another M A Orchards director, Andy McGrath, said orchardists throughout New Zealand were facing “a season from hell”. The fruiting season was delayed and hail was “huge and early”.

He believed this year’s fruit season was “the worst climatically for 30 years”. McGrath said hail damage took several days to appear and could vary greatly within an orchard. Directors would receive updates on the state of the orchard from manager Red Martin.

Shadecloth company Windshadow’s southern operations manager, Cam Meyer, said the storm was a case of “Murphy’s Law”. Windshadow had not finished installing shadecloth structures at the site when the hail “banged the fruit something terrible”.

Meyer said another M A Orchards property on Divans Rd had largely escaped the “thumbnail-sized stuff”. Allen said shadecloth would probably be installed at the Divans Rd property after this year’s apple harvest.

Honeycrisp apples are produced in New Zealand by about 15 contracted orchards, primarily to supply the North American market during the northern hemisphere winter.