Fruit booms as dairy wilts

By Doug Laing

A drought hitting sheep and dairy farmers has a silver lining for crops that are shaping up as some of the best in Hawke's Bay for several years.

And provincial Winegrowers chairman Nicholas Buck hopes that if the conditions continue the Bay could have its best wine vintage "in living memory".

Judgment is reserved pending harvesting, with grapes among the last crops each season, but Mr Buck of Te Mata Estate, Havelock North, said: "It is not till it's fermented and in the tank, in late May to June, that we know for sure, but even by the end of harvesting we should have a good idea."

The key for all crops has been having sufficient access to water, with the benefits already starting to be reaped in tomatoes, apples and peaches.

Wattie's has begun its tomato production ahead of schedule, saying it has become an ideal harvest season.

More than 100 hectares have already been harvested and a target of 34,000 tonnes will be met, according to company agronomist Jonny La Trobe.

Processing will be 24/7 for the next five weeks. He said: "The quality is excellent and yields look good from a crop that was always going to be bigger than last year's."

Growing conditions had been much better than the 2010-12 seasons, particularly last year, which was defined by wet and humid weather.

While the season got off to a cold start, he said, a warm summer with long sunshine hours had advanced maturity and led to slightly earlier harvesting and processing.

Hawke's Bay Fruitgrowers Association's Leon Stallard was yesterday in the thick of apple harvesting, saying that two weeks in it was already "seven days a week, sunrise to sunset" until May.

"We've only got 10 weeks of the year to make our income and pay the bills," he said. "We only get one shot at it."

There had been a cool spring, which limited growth, but not to the extent it had last summer when some fruit was the smallest in many years.

But fruit this season was conditioned early to the sun, lessening the risk of burn over a summer many people declared was "Hawke's Bay, as we remember it," Mr Stallard said.

"From what I'm hearing, colour and packout are good, and quality is very high," he said. Wattie's senior crop supply agronomist Bruce Mackay agreed, saying fruit quality was fantastic and volumes being harvested exceed expectations.

More than 9500 bins of peaches will be harvested this year, including Golden Queens, the variety that has helped define and grow the Wattie's brand.

The situation remains dire across the pastoral sector, with rain being forecast for some areas yesterday barely eventuating, and no significant rainfalls in the forecast.

Much of Hawke's Bay has had no rain since February 4-5, when Napier's 14.2mm and Hastings' 8.8mm was the entire rainfall for the month.

Dannevirke had 37.2mm at that time, and has a had trace on each of about five days since, adding barely another 1mm. Gisborne's 10mm was followed by about 5mm sparingly over the past month, according to MetService.

According to Niwa national climate centre figures released yesterday, February 5 was also one of the coldest recorded February days in Hawke's Bay - the 14.1C minimum in Napier being the city's third lowest February minimum since comparative details were first recorded in 1940, and the 14.9C in Hastings being its lowest in the 41 years such figures have been recorded for that city.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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