Batlow orchardists have reported a positive start to the harvest season this year, with good weather conditions and great produce, as the industry continues to recover from the effects of the Black Summer bushfires.
“The season’s been good – we had a slightly lighter crop of our labyrinths variety than normal but that was partly due to the bushfires,” Greg Mouat of Mouat’s Farm said.
“Our later variety of sweetheart, which we’ve just finished picking, went very well.
“All in all, we’re pretty pleased with the way it’s gone.”
The recent cherry crop has also been a boost for Ralph Wilson of Wilgro Orchards.
“In volume it will be down a bit, but that’s because of loss of trees,” Mr Wilson explained, “but if we looked at a per tree or per hectare basis with what we’ve got, I think we’ll have as good a crop as we’ve had for a long time.
“We had some good rain all the way through growing, so trees grew well, [and the] cherries were big.”
The summer weather this year has been strikingly different to the weather experienced last season, with showers and fog replacing bushfires, smoke and scorching heat.
“It’s been a mild season; hasn’t been cold, hasn’t been too hot – it’s a bit of a goldilocks season,” Mr Wilson reflected.
He noted the rain had caused a bit of splitting with some of the produce, but was able to sell this as second grade fruit.
Mr Mouat also reported some splitting, but said it wasn’t enough for him to be concerned.
“I’d take it this year over last year anytime,” he said.
“Everything’s very green and fresh and healthy at the moment, and we continue to get rain each week.”
Mr Wilson said that not only has the quality of the cherries been a boost, but their financial return has also been welcomed, especially after last year’s crop provided “very little money.”
“We sold all our fruit through our roadside stall, there’s been a lot of people coming through and a lot of demand for cherries,” Mr Wilson said.
“Sales are up dramatically – they would be on last year, but the year before they’re dramatically up from that.”
Mr Wilson thinks that Covid-19 restrictions on interstate and international travel have a part to play in this.
“We’re getting a lot of people who are taking a holiday in regional areas, and I think that’s helping us with our business and helping the district, because everybody’s asking ‘what can we do’,” he said.
The travel restrictions didn’t pose any problems for the Batlow orchardists, who both rely primarily on contractors, “plus a backpacker or two,” Mr Wilson said.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Mr Wilson said that both the cherry trees and apple trees – which are due to be harvested at the end of February – are looking very healthy.
“We’ve been here 36 years and I can honestly say that I think the trees that have survived the fires are probably as good as I’ve seen them since I’ve been here,” he said.
Mr Mouat shares similar sentiments about the upcoming harvest.
“Even though it’s early days, [the fruit is] colouring well, so we’re looking forward to a much happier season,” he said.
“We will pick more than we did last year, even though we have lost quite a bit of fruit.
“Last year not only was it affected by the fires, but we had been affected by the drought also, so those fruits that are bearing have grown back well.”
In the background of harvesting, selling produce and running an orchard, the bushfire recovery efforts are continuing at a steady pace.
Mr Wilson said that last year was “probably one of the most demanding years we’ve had in our lives.”
Efforts have been ongoing to replace burnt posts and netting, remove burnt trees and rebuild sheds, fitting them out and buying equipment to fill them with.
“We’ve still got work to do, it will be an ongoing thing for quite some time,” Mr Wilson said, “but we’re getting on top of it.”
Mr Mouat said that over the last 12 months, a lot of the blocks that were damaged have been removed from his orchard and the ground is being prepared for replanting.
“Some will be replanted this year, [and] quite a lot will be planted in 2022,” he said.
“We probably won’t finish replanting for at least another two to three years from the damage that was done.”