Cherry producers across the country are on track for a bumper season, and early crop forecasts suggest this year’s crop will reach new record highs, making it Australia’s largest cherry crop in history.
Known as one of Australia’s favourite Christmas fruits, consumers might see a higher supply than usual this year, but growers are setting their sights on increasing their export numbers considerably.
Cherry Growers Australia president Tom Eastlake said all production areas were recording a good crop, ranging from a light to heavy crop depending on the region.
The national record for the Australian cherry crop is about 15,000 tonnes.
“The forecast at the moment depends on how bullish you want to be … we would have to be starting this year at a baseline of 20 per cent higher than 15,000 tonnes, so it will be about 18,000 tonnes,” Mr Eastlake said.
“Assuming we don’t have any adverse weather events come through, I would be reasonably confident we hit that mark.”
Riverland cherry grower Leon Cotsaris started harvesting early variety cherries at his orchard in Renmark, South Australia two weeks ago, and said growing conditions this year were great.
“We had a fairly mild spring, which has been pretty good, although it’s been very dry,” he said.
Mr Cotsaris said fruit size and quality this year were good, but dependent on weather conditions in coming weeks.
Cherry Growers Association of South Australia president and Adelaide Hills grower Nick Noske said they had been expecting high yields last year, but many growers’ crops were severely damaged by hail and rain.
“It had quite a negative impact on their harvestable yields and limited options on what they could do with the fruit … it was difficult to export marked and damaged fruit,” he said.
Export drives high production volumes
Despite a bumper crop, consumers might not see extreme price drops this season as growers look to export markets.
Due to the reopening of the Vietnamese market and new market access to China last year, demand for Australia cherries is high.
Mr Eastlake said the willingness of Australian producers to export had never been higher.
“We’ve seen the largest number of export registration for Australian cherries in history this year,” he said.
“I don’t know if we will hit half this year, but we should fall somewhere between 35 and 50 per cent.”
Mr Cotsaris said one of the challenges was to grow the quality the export market required.
“If you are asking to get good money, you also have to have the quality that withstands transport and air freight to different countries.”
The increased number of birds is another task many growers need to tackle this year, installing costly netting to protect their fruit.
Mr Cotsaris said the increased number of birds was due to the drought, and cherries being one of the fruits they could get hold of easily if not netted.
“Netting costs money and time, it does damage the fruit where the net rubs against the tree and the fruit, but at least you are saving your crop. It is challenging but a necessity,” he said.
Cherry tree plantings ramp up across country
As more export markets are expected to open, growers have been busy getting new tree plantings in the ground.
Mr Eastlake said growers had established new production areas over recent years and there were additional plantings going into the ground in the Riverland and Sunraysia.
Mr Cotsaris planted an extra 12,000 trees to complement the existing 17,000 trees in his orchard.