New Year’s Hail

12 January 2011

The thing most people don’t realise about farming is that it’s so unpredictable – it quite literally puts you at the mercy of the elements.

On New Year’s Day a huge thunderstorm swept through the Ceres valley and all we could do was stand and watch as the hail that it brought pounded our orchards and vineyards – one of those things that we farmers dread. It was over in less than 15 minutes.

We are about a month into our summer harvest season, and all our trees are full of fruit with many almost ready to be picked.  So, although it takes a few days for the full extent of the damage to show, we expected the worst.

And unfortunately as last week progressed our fears were realised. One of the orchards that was worst hit is our Rosemarie pears. They were three days away from being ready to be picked and the best size, colour and quality we’ve had for years.

When we started picking there last Tuesday, three days after the hail-storm, it soon became apparent that roughly 75-85% of the fruit was damaged to such an extent that we can do nothing with it except sell them to the pulp factory.

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The Rocha pears and Royal Gala and Pink Lady apple orchards just next to the Rosemaries didn’t fare any better.  The other orchards that were in the path of the thunder storm were three yellow cling peach orchards that fortunately were two-thirds harvested already.

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I’m sure your next question is: Why don’t you dry the damaged fruit? Firstly, not all fruit varieties are suitable for drying, so in most cases the varieties that we plant for the fresh market and for drying are not the same ones.

Secondly, to produce the great quality dried fruit that we’re known for and that you love, we cannot start with inferior fresh fruit. Yes, we can and do also dry juice grade fruit to chop up and make some of our other delicacies like, fruit rolls, bars and dainties.

However, the return for a farmer on this third grade fruit is a fraction of that of Class 1 fruit and goes only some way to covering growing costs. These Rosemaries, Rochas, Royal Galas and Pink Ladies were destined for the European export markets and despite our strong exchange rate, sell for five to ten times more than Class 3 processing fruit!

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I guess the greatest cost is possibly of a non-financial kind. For everyone that worked hard throughout the year to prepare this crop, it is soul-destroying and very emotional to see it taken away in an instant. Yet it is also very sobering and humbling to be reminded that we cannot control Nature and that you will not survive in this game without faith, hope and passion.

– Handri