Orchardists on frost alert as buds move early

17/07/2008

Central Otago orchardists  are anxiously watching their trees and the weather because buds are starting to move early which puts them at risk of frost damage.  

McIntosh’s Orchard owner Wayne McIntosh said buds on his trees at Earnscleugh were starting to move, although he was not worried about his crop yet.

“The bud movement is about four or five weeks ahead of last year, but it depends on what the temperatures are like this month. No-one knows what will happen. It’s just part of the variation of growing fruit,” he said.

Mr McIntosh said if buds continued to move early, orchardists would have to be aware of the possible need for extensive frost-fighting.

“Our objective is to frost-fight as little as possible, but you have to take whatever measures are necessary. It is no cause for alarm just yet, but we are aware of the precautions we might need to take,” he said.

At Rob’s Rural Market in Earnscleugh, some of the orchard’s apricot buds have turned red.

Owner Harry Roberts said he had seen early bud-moving before, and the next three weeks would tell what was in store for the crop.

“Some of our buds are quite red, which means they have broken the bud and are showing the petal cover already. It could be a problem if we get a cold August, but it’s still early days,” he said.

Mr Roberts said this winter had been wetter than usual and ground moisture could aid the crop.

“It pushes up humidity, which lessens the severity of frosts.”

In parts of his orchard, apricot trees were developing at different paces due to their position on the block.

Trees higher up or next to geographical features which trapped warm air pockets were developing as they would in spring, while lower down, where cool air sat, trees presented typical winter growth.

Cold winters enhance the flavour of Central fruit, but frosts at the wrong time can decimate whole crops.


Fruit Rots for Want of Pickers

24/06/2008

Australia is borrowing our ideas to help solve their problems with a shortage of seasonal workers:

FRED Tassone is one of scores of operators of orchards, market gardens and vineyards across the country who cannot find enough workers to pick their produce.

Despite more than 460,000 people being officially unemployed in Australia, the chronic labour shortage in the horticulture industry has reached the point where fruit has been left rotting on trees, and vegetables are left in the ground.

The federal Government is evaluating a recently completed trial of a seasonal workers program in New Zealand, generally regarded as successful by government and industry alike. Soon the sight of Pacific Islanders in fields across Australia may be commonplace.

A decision on a pilot of a program allowing Pacific Islanders short-term visas of up to six months is expected in the next few weeks. Pacific leaders have long advocated the freer movement of labour.

The use of Pacific workers helped orchardists in Central Otago last summer, and also added vibrancy to the community. A group of workers, with beautiful voices, used to busk at Wanaka’s Sunday market.

The mining boom in Western Australia has attracted many people who might once have been prepared to do the hard physical work in the orchards and vineyards.

“It doesn’t matter whether the unemployment rate is 5 per cent or 50 per cent, Australia’s unemployed don’t want to do our work,” Mr Tassone said.

“Unskilled workers can make up to $1200 a week, but Australians just don’t want to do it.”

Jonathan Nathundriwa, 30, from Fiji, who works on a farm next to Mr Tassone’s, said local unemployed people were not interested in the hard physical work required.

On the other hand, the Islanders would be delighted to earn a decent income, Mr Nathundriwa said.

“My family back in Fiji are busting their chops for $10 a day,” he said.

“I would love to be able to give them employment.”

He could also be talking about the dairy industry here.

 Gay Tripodi, who runs stone-fruit operation Murrawee Farms at Swan Hill, in Victoria, said backpackers were not a solution.

“For God’s sake, they’re a nightmare,” she said. “It’s not their fault – most are good kids, but 99 per cent have never been on a farm.

“We need workers who can stay with us for the duration of the season, five to six months.

“We can train them up and then they return to us the following year. We have been really struggling. The situation is dramatic.”

We have a similar problem with people unaccustomed to farms who think they want to work in dairying. It would be great to be able to employ seasonal workers on dairy farms in the same way orchards do. If we could we might look further than the Pacific Islands. We’ve had good workers from Argentina and Chile and neighbours are equally positive about workers from Uruguay.


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