As the cherry season begins, Central Otago orchardists are hoping the rain abates so they can meet Christmas demand.

Jackson Orchards in Cromwell, which is generally one of the first growers to pick in Central Otago, began its harvest of early cherry varieties more than a week ago. Co-owner Mark Jackson said the crop was "looking good".

"With some hot weather we thought we might be starting a little earlier, but it ended up being about normal."

Recent rain did not seem to have caused damage, he said.


"We got a bit before we started picking, and some more recently, but luckily the weather was cold. We're hoping that's the last of it."

The mixture of rain and heat can cause the fruit to split.

It seemed as if there would be plenty of cherries for Christmas, Mr Jackson said.

The picking of main varieties will start around Christmas, with export varieties peaking in January.

Big Cherry owner Chris Toms, of Roxburgh, said rain had caused "significant damage" to early varieties.

"We hoped to have started picking already, but now it won't be for a few weeks.

"I think it'll be OK for Christmas, but the weather has to play its part."

It was not unusual for the weather to damage early pickings, but it contrasted to the "great weather" of the past two seasons, he said.


Luckily, a hot, dry summer was forecast, Mr Toms said.

H & J Roberts co-owner Harry Roberts, of Earnscleugh, said there was no use making predictions about the crop.

"There's good fruit on the trees, and I think there will be enough for Christmas, but you're always only one bad rain away from disaster."

His staff would begin picking early varieties next week, he said.

"But we won't be into the export product for a while."

Other stone fruit such as apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums were looking good, he said.

"But again, it's early days."