By RNZ and Jared Morgan of the Otago Daily Times
Heavy rain over New Year's created cherries so juicy that many of them burst.
Cherry growers believe about half of the crop has been affected, making them no longer fit for export.
Summerfruit New Zealand chief executive Richard Palmer said Central Otago was affected by the rain.
However, production in the Hawke's Bay was not affected and the crop "has been very good this season, great for domestic consumers, fantastic tasting fruit on the marketplace".
But the crop that had gone bad came at a huge cost, not just for the growers, but packers and seasonal staff who would not have as much work, he said.
He estimated 50 percent of the crop would not be exported, causing about a $50 million loss.
Overall, the Central Otago was badly hit, including by the lack of international travellers due to Covid-19, he said.
"This is highly unseasonal rainfall, 100mm of rain in some areas. We can cope with a little bit of rain but this sort of rain ... there's no way around."
Apricot supply has also been temporarily affected.
However, he said other summer fruit like plums, peaches and nectarines would still need workers for the harvest.
"Come February, there's also a substantial apple harvest in Central Otago. There isn't as much work ... there's still some work. Other regions in New Zealand are also looking for workers, in particular the Hawke's Bay."
Central Otago fruitgrowers say they are still counting the costs of the New Year deluge that decimated this season's cherry harvest.
Estimates sit at about 60 per cent on average of cherry crop lost across the region, shaving millions of dollars in value off this season's harvest.
Other fruit was also affected by four days of torrential rain punctuated by showers throughout the week and a week on from the rain starting growers were assessing how much fruit was still salvageable.
At Ripponvale, near Cromwell, Cheeki Cherries/Dam Good Fruit owner Martin Milne said his losses were a mixed bag.
"There's been some huge losses, without a doubt."
He estimated on some blocks he had lost 80 per cent of his cherry crop but on others' losses were closer to 20 per cent.
It depended on how much water was expelled from the trees into the fruit — too much caused it to split — but a tree that was heavily laden with fruit could buffer the effects, he said.
He had "covered bases" in terms of his business by offering pick-your-own cherries and mail orders, as well as his export crops.
Harry Roberts, of Roberts' Orchard, near Alexandra, said his family business was "just as in the gun as everyone else" following the rain.
"When you get that volume of rain it makes it bloody hard work and ruins some very good product that could be going overseas."
The effects went beyond the growers and would affect the New Zealand economy at large, including workers and he was doing his best to keep them in work.
"We've got workers here that were relying on this [work] to get around the country.
"We're still working, we're still trying to salvage as much as we can."
Other crops, such as peaches, nectarines, and apricots, had weathered the rain better, Mr Roberts said.
"They seem to be as good as gold."
In Earnscleugh, one of hardest-hit areas, Jeremy Hiscock, of Panmure Orchards, said aside from cherries, crops had "fared better than expected".
There was still damage and the end of the season would tell the full extent of losses suffered by fruitgrowers across Central Otago.
Rain after the four-day "event" that flooded orchards in Earnscleugh had compounded the problem with cherries.
Compared to the rain on January 1 to 4, which was region-wide, the subsequent showers had affected some areas of more than others, he said.
"It's incredibly difficult. It's too early to say just how bad it is and whether it is worth persisting."