Written by  Ken Gaudion

Cherries—rain, risk & R&D

Why is what you did in the orchard last season not relevant this season?

To start with, each season is different, with a different set of circumstances for the grower to deal with as best he can.
Most regions had increased chill hours leading to a better fruit set this year; and conditions have  generally been drier from blossom onwards— until as the late Dr Roger Way (USA) once said, “The ripening esters of the Bing cherry bring on the rain clouds”.
Strange how dry conditions can last so long, with soil moisture drying out, then, as the cherries begin to colour pink and red, they attract the sound of helicopters blowing the excess water from the fruit, saving it from cracking due to the transfer of too much water into the fruit by osmosis.
Rain covers
As costs to establish a cherry orchard and to purchase modern cherry grading equipment continue to rise, it is ever more important to try and minimise any rain damage by having some blocks under rain cover.
Interesting insurance option
Risk of rain damage and insurance of crops from weather damage has always been fraught with caution, as the usual rider is that all or most of the crop in a block must be lost for a payout to occur.
But what if an insurance deal was available to cover a rain event of say 50 mm during harvest? With a payout if that amount of rain was recorded regardless of the damage caused.
Would growers take a risk to invest in such a scheme?
Extra humidity, more pest problems
The extra humidity from the recent rains has created more leaf growth—succulent, tasty young things that are very attractive to cherry slug, thrip and any other insect pest looking for a feed.
In fact, sometimes plagues of insects move in suddenly, so it does take the observant eye to discover the invasion and take action before the pest causes a problem.
Marketing, R&D and the future
In this market–driven world it is quite a challenge for the cherry grower to create a point of difference.
Packaging in distinctive cartons is one way to stand out, however, supermarkets tend not to show the branding on the box, so that advantage is lost.
Informing customers of the health benefits of cherries is also a very positive move, especially when consumers are now more aware of the negatives of over processed food.
As we are close to one month in on the cherry harvest, key matters regarding issues involving Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited—marketing, the future of the research and development program, and the future of the cherry levy—are now critically important to the industry.
So, when a Cherry Growers of Australia road show comes to your area, go along, get involved and have your say. It is your industry, it is your future, it is up to you.

 See this article in Tree Fruit Nov 2015