New Zealand choppers save cherries for
China in Lunar New Year rush
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[January 18, 2017]
By Charlotte Greenfield
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand cherry
producers are flying helicopters low over their orchards to dry off
raindrops and protect thousands of tonnes of their product headed to
Asia to feed rapidly growing demand from Chinese New Year revelers.
China has grown to become the second largest destination for New Zealand
cherries after Taiwan in the past seven years. Together they take about
60 percent of cherry exports, which were worth about NZ$43 million ($31
million) last year.
Last week New Zealand exported 900 tonnes of cherries, the largest
amount recorded in a one-week period. Exports are expected to grow to
around NZ$50 million this season, according to Tim Jones, chairman of
Summerfruit NZ, which represents growers.
"The demand is phenomenal," said Tracey Burns, who handles international
cherry sales at produce exporter Freshmax.
Singapore Airlines said it is re-directing four cargo flights from
Auckland to Christchurch to pick up 300 tonnes of cherries to be shipped
on to cities in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taipei by Thursday.
Exporters and growers said they received constant requests for as much
as fruit they could grow during Chinese New Year.
"I had a woman recently calling me up from China wanting 500 tonnes. We
only do probably 50 tonnes in our orchard maximum, so I think she was
dreaming a little bit," said Martin Milne, a grower in the town of
All harvesting and sales take place in a two and a half month season
starting in December, but the time frame for Chinese New Year is even
tighter: growers have to deliver fruit by Jan. 23, the deadline set by
[to top of second column]
A helicopter is used to dry cherries at New Zealand Cherry CorpÕs
orchard in Cromwell, in the South Island of New Zealand, January 18,
2016. New Zealand Cherry Corp/Handout via REUTERS
Growers in Central Otago - a mountainous region well-known as a
backdrop in the 'Lord of the Rings' films - are paying thousands of
dollars an hour to fly helicopters over trees to stop rainfall from
To ensure the good quality sought by Asian buyers, the choppers have
been flying just one meter above the trees, operating like fans to
blow away moisture left by recent rain.
"It's a high-value, fast-moving crop which means it gets a lot less
room for glitches like rain," said Marie Dawkins, Chief Executive
Officer of Summerfruit NZ.
Growers were racing on Wednesday against forecasts predicting a
severe incoming storm.
"It's a bit of a worry but at the end of the day the weather is what
it is and you can't do much about it except getting helicopters
out," said Milne.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Sonali Paul)
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