Rain a gala event for growers

RAIN over the long weekend may have dampened Australia Day festivities for some, but it was a welcome sight for fruit growers struggling with hot, dry weather over recent weeks.

For orchardist Tim West the 55 millimetres of rain that fell over two days at his Nashdale property was a case of better late than never. 

He hopes it will revive his 40,000 apple trees before he begins harvesting fruit in two to three weeks beginning with the Royal Gala apples.

“The constant heat stops the trees,” he said.

“When they get to a certain heat they don’t do much even though you’re irrigating them.

“We’ll take [the rain] now but it would have been better two weeks ago.”

NSW Farmers vice-president and orchardist Peter Darley said the rain had been tremendous for growers and was very gratefully received.

“There was a 25 per cent [crop] loss due to the extreme heat,” he said.

“The rain was very timely. It supplements the irrigation they’ve been using but there is nothing better than natural rain.”

Orange Fruit Growers Co-operative Cool Stores board member Phil Stevenson said if the hot dry weather had continued the crop would have been decimated.

While Mr West was not concerned about losing trees or fruit from the dry summer so far, he said the lack of rain impacted on the size of the apples.

“If you didn’t get a break you’d have lots of small fruit,” he said.

“Supermarkets only take a certain size and the trees just stop working in the heat.”

Mr Darley said the size of this season’s fruit had been a major issue for growers.

“Some trees were under stress,” he said.

“The markets are looking for medium to large size [apples], there is not much demand for smaller fruit.”

Despite the challenging season, Mr West said this year’s crop was very clean and he hoped to harvest 4500 bins of apples - weighing about 2000 tonnes - over the six to eight week harvest.

“We can have good growing years but it all depends on the market,” he said.

“It’s too early to tell what [prices] will be, it depends on how the other districts are faring.”

Mr West said Victorian apple growers filled up the market with  oversupply forcing prices  to drop.

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