STONE fruit is the essence of summer in Australia and on the Granite Belt that is no different.
With picking already
under way on a few stone fruits, it is interesting to note that Cherry Park, at The Summit, was the first cherry producer in Australia to send fruit to the market this season.
Cherry Park owner and operator Graham Minifie said the quirky claim to fame was a title they held most years.
"We are at the highest altitude in Queensland, which gives us the advantage of having fruit a week to 10 days earlier than other parts of Australia," Mr Minifie said.
"Our first lot was sent Monday last week and all indications predict other fruit will start emerging on the market this week."
As for the size of this year's crop, Mr Minifie said the quantity was down on last year.
"Cherries need 800 to 1000 chilling units or hours where the temperature is below
seven degrees," he said.
"Chilling hours help cause good bud development, which in turn helps stimulate the fruit set.
"This year we had quite a warm winter and, as a result, the fruit set wasn't there and we only have 5% of our normal crop.
"So we normally get about 20 tonne and this year we will only have about one tonne.
"Last year we had a nice, cold winter and had a good crop as a result.
"With the way the years are going and the winters are getting warmer, I can't see growers planting any more trees in this area."
Mr Minifie said he expected he was not the only grower affected by the warm winter.
"I would think because of the warmer-than-normal winter all over Australia, other growers will also have smaller crops than last year," he said.
"THEY might not be as down in quantity as we are but it will still mean less fruit on the market, which should mean we will get better prices for them at the market."
Cherries are a one-shot-a-season fruit and recent rain has left its mark.
"The recent rain has caused some splitting in the fruit," Mr Minifie said. "It doesn't affect the taste but it affects the look of the fruit so we might not get as good a price.
"We always want sunshine during picking season and we only want rain prior to flowering."
Mr Minifie is currently picking the Empress cherry variety and will have three more varieties to pick before the end of the season.
"Lapins are our biggest variety in both the size of the fruit and volume that we pick," he said.
Mr Minifie said the smaller than normal season reinforced the need for alternate income.
"To counteract these seasons, we decided we needed something else and invested in solar," he said.
"That is a steady and reliable income for us."
Mr Minifie said he also expanded the orchard and added fig and feijoa trees and has been selling the fruit for the past four years.
"The figs give me more work I can do on my own without staff, which helps with costings," he said.
"Their picking starts at about Christmas and they will produce a second crop in March to April.
"The feijoas will also fruit between March and May."
The cherry picking season generally runs from now until about December 23.
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