ORANGE cherry producers have received the best Christmas gift in years and are celebrating a bumper crop.
After market prices bottomed out and fruit was left on the trees last year, and rain wiped out crops the two preceding years, a major breakthrough into export markets means the future looks bright for many growers.
“It hasn’t been this good for years,” says grower Michael Cunial (pictured).
Ninety-five per cent of his crop was sold to China as export this year and Mr Cunial said it was a good feeling.
“It makes you think about planting rather than pulling trees out,” he said.
Mr Cunial said many elements came together to create a successful season this year, including a gap in the Chinese market enabling him to move in ahead of rival growers from Chile, plenty of pickers available, including contractors and backpackers, and the weather.
“The Chinese have a preference for large, hard cherries and we were able to send several varieties,” he said.
Mr Cunial said it was the lapham, samba and santina sweet varieties that were the cherry of choice for export this year.
However he said without the ‘middle men’ in finding the gap in the markets, the export of his crop
would not have been possible.
“I used an agent in Orange and one in Sydney and the great thing about using a local agent is I had my money in my hand the same day the cherries were shipped, as opposed to having to wait for three months,” he said.
Mr Cunial welcomed news Orange City Council was planning to open Lake Canobolas for backpackers, many of them from overseas who are an integral part of the picking process.
“The backpackers have been fantastic and we need to look after them,” he said.
“Of course you always get a couple of rotten apples, but you get that anywhere in life.”
Mr Cunial said he tries to provide as much onsite camping for backpackers as possible, giving them access to amenities. He also extends a helping hand to backpackers who live off site.
“I let them have showers and wash their clothes here - they have to have somewhere for that.”
Fiona Hall, who represents the Caernarvon company, is equally as thrilled but admits they require more pickers over the next two weeks.
“We will need about 100 because many of the backpackers head to Sydney for the fireworks
over New Year’s Eve,” she said.
She too is pleased about the company’s inroads into China this season, with 1200 tonnes exported to China and the Orange, Millthorpe, Cudal and Mudgee cherry yield accounting for 10 per cent of the nation’s crop this season.