Orchard News

New hail netting saves South Canterbury apples after big storm

Shelter under the new netting which saved hail damage on Sunday.

M A Orchards administrator Di Jamison and spray contractor Tony Crampton shelter under the netting which saved the Divan Rd block from hail damage on Sunday.

Hail which destroyed an export apple crop in 2014 was no match for a South Canterbury orchard’s netting this year.

Hail pounded Pleasant Point, Timaru and other parts of South Canterbury on Sunday but left M A Orchards’ Divan Rd orchard block untouched.

A block of the company’s Honeycrisp apples on Kerrytown Rd received extensive damage in a hail storm in November 2014 while it was installing protective hail netting.

Hail Storm

Hail coats a Timaru lawn on Sunday.

Orchard manager Red Martin said this year, the netting managed to repel several bands of hail which fell on its trees, saving the company “significant damage” to an export crop destined for the United States.

Speaking after a meeting with an insurance company representative, Martin said the netting had proved its worth.

Waipopo Orchards owner Peter Bennett said the hail had not touched his apples 7.5 km northeast of M A Orchards. However, the trees received a “welcome” six millimetres of rain.

Martin said dry weather could present some challenges for local orchardists this summer. Opuha Water Limited had restricted users to 75 per cent of their irrigation allocation, he said.

The dam company has warned irrigators to plan for a 50 per cent restriction beginning about December 23. It reported storage levels of 71.4 per cent on December 11, compared to 44.1 per cent at the same time last year.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research soil moisture anomaly charts suggest soil in South Canterbury is significantly drier than usual.

Martin said the orchard was employing 68 workers and would be recruiting pickers soon. Although the company had relied on labour hire companies for 80 per cent of its seasonal workforce, Martin said a new website and word of mouth from workers meant most of its staff so far had applied for their jobs directly.

Nonetheless, he anticipated externally recruited workers would be needed later in the season.

Dry weather produces good quality apples for US

Apple pickers wanted

Picking apples at Levels are Hong Kong bank worker Aloha Ngai, top, and merchandiser Kelly Kwan. The pair are taking a working holiday in New Zealand.

Dry weather is providing a helping hand to a local orchard months after hail wrecked up to half its crop.

M A Orchards manager Red Martin said on Friday the Levels orchard’s Honeycrisp apples were “looking good” after months of dry weather. Martin said about 80 workers, including 70 pickers, were harvesting the apples.

The American-owned firm would then have the apples trucked to Nelson for packing before they were exported to the United States, as a supply for the Northern Hemisphere country’s off-season. MA Orchards would look for another 10 workers next week to keep up with the fast rate of maturation.

A hailstorm in November damaged fruit at the orchard’s 19-hectare Kerrytown Rd block before contractors had finished installing hail netting. Martin said dry weather late in the growing season was good for the fruit’s quality, particularly its “dry matter”, which improved its texture and flavour.

Orchard big loser in hailstorm

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.