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January 19, 2017

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Copters dry off raindrops from cherries

NEW Zealand cherry producers are flying helicopters low over their orchards to dry off raindrops and protect thousands of tons of their product headed to China to feed rapidly growing demand from Chinese New Year revelers.

China’s mainland 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 (US$31 million) last year.

Last week, New Zealand exported 900 tons 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 redirecting four cargo flights from Auckland to Christchurch to pick up 300 tons of cherries to be shipped to cities in China’s mainland, Hong Kong and Taipei by today.

Exporters and growers said they received constant requests for as much fruit as they could grow during Chinese New Year.

“I had a woman recently calling me up from China wanting 500 tons. We only do probably 50 tons in our orchard maximum, so I think she was dreaming a little bit,” said Martin Milne, a grower in the town of Cromwell.

All harvesting and sales take place in a two-and-a-half-month season starting in December, but the timeframe for Chinese New Year is even tighter: growers have to deliver fruit by next Monday, the deadline set by Asian distributors.

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 cracking fruit.

To ensure the good quality sought by Chinese 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.


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