Warm in the orchard

FRUIT GROWER: Katie Finlay on her orchard in Harcourt. Picture: PETER WEAVING

FRUIT GROWER: Katie Finlay on her orchard in Harcourt. Picture: PETER WEAVING

THE last few weeks of unusually warm May weather has been glorious for most.

But for those who bank on their trees reaching low temperatures during night time and being covered in frost in the morning, the change in weather means a change in the fruit.

The warm temperatures have given Harcourt organic fruit grower Katie Finlay pause for thought.

"We're seeing a lot of unusual weather," Mrs Finlay said. 

Mrs Finlay said the strangely warm autumn has meant much of her fruit has been deprived of what she called the "chill factor".

She said the fruit trees needed to spend a certain number of hours per day below a certain temperature. If that low temperature was not reached for the necessary amount of time, she said, the buds would not burst next spring.

"It's one of those things that makes us really aware that climate change is already happening and it's one of the impacts we're expecting more of," she said.

We're seeing a lot of unusual weather. - Katie Finlay

She said a warmer autumn was not the only weather changes they had experienced.

"We lost cherries in a flood a couple of years ago and that was a massively unusual event."

She said she and husband Hugh were starting to think about different "low-chill" varieties of fruit that could grow in warmer temperatures.

Large commercial apple grower Montague Orchards has also felt the impact of a warmer-than-usual couple of weeks.

Orchard manager Michael Simmins said they had struggled with the colour of their pink lady apples.

"I've been growing fruit for 23 years in Harcourt and this is the only difficult time we've had with colouring," Mr Simmins said.

He said the apples took on their well-known pinkish colour eventually, but it took longer than usual.

Mr Simmins said the warm overnight temperatures and the lack of frosty mornings were to blame.

Chaplins Orchard co-owner Rob Chaplin said the warmer weather meant this season's harvest ripened faster than usual.

Mr Chaplin said this caused the fruit to bruise more easily.

"The fruit is still fantastic to eat, but any sort of handling effects pack-out," he said.

He said there would be some financial loss, simply because more apples than usual would bruise before sale.

Mr Chaplin said remaining apples would be used for juice.

Cellar door manager at Bress Wine, Cider and Produce, Sue Anderson, said they were among the lucky ones.

"Cider fruit is totally different to eating fruit. It's more compact and has a lot more acid. We picked apples back in February," she said.

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