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Cherries Up High

Cherries Up High

Cherries Up High

People travelling between Tarras and Cromwell have no inkling that a large cherry orchard is above them on a terrace of Lindis Crossing Station. The orchard is approximately 400 m above sea level with views over the Clutha river across to the Pisa range.

This high terrace orchard is one of two blocks of cherries that form part of Alpine Pastures Group’s operations in Canterbury and Central Otago. This family-owned business employs around 30 full-time staff. The core of the business focuses on fattening sheep and beef. In Canterbury, they also have a 140 ha dairy farm. There’s also a half share in a 53 hect Northland avocado orchard being harvested for the first time this year.

One of Alpine Pastures Group's directors, Luke Thompson, explains the reasons behind the cherry development: “Going back five years, we focused entirely on fattening sheep and beef here and in Canterbury. The two blocks where we’ve now planted the cherries were irrigated with labour-intensive K-Lines and grew hardly any grass in summer. We reviewed other sites around the property and decided on this higher one due to the airflow which helps prevent frost settling and bacterial diseases. The soil is free-draining, and we had water and electricity nearby.”

Tree planting commenced in 2020, steadily building the numbers each year. Another 800 trees are going in this winter to make 7.5 ha on the upper terrace. To spread the risk of frost and other weather-related damage, they chose four red cherry varieties and also planted 4.5 ha of trees on a lower terrace. Both orchards are netted for bird and hail protection, and the Upright Fruiting Offshoots (UFO) growing system utilised for all trees.

Blair adds another benefit: “On a calm day early in spring, you can spray alternate rows as the spray will reach the in-between rows, not like standard trees where you need to spray the complete block.”

All efforts are focused on growing big size, export quality fruit with a targeted nutrition programme utilising solid fertilisers, fertigation and foliar products, such as Bud Builder Flo to set up trees for next season’s crop. They’re managing the usual pests and diseases, such as aphids, bacterial blast and fruit rots. Jim values being able to sound Blair out on what’s going on across the region and they all note the different conditions on this plateau above Tarras.

“You can hear frost fans running in the area but it’s likely to be about a degree warmer up here,” says Luke, “and we’re often one to two degrees warmer than the Cromwell blocks. Overall, though our season is slightly later here than Cromwell, so our target is export, not the Christmas market.” 

Blair has observed another difference. “We’ve seen some chemistry that’s been in use further south possibly develop some pockets of resistance, but because cherries are relatively new around Tarras and Ardgour, we can use these to rotate as alternative cover.”

The first crop was harvested in December 2023. Luke says: “At 25 tonnes, it was exactly as we expected. Over 70 percent was export quality, so we were happy with that. Looking ahead, we’ve talked about expanding the area in cherries but are going to get these 800 trees in this winter and consolidate our efforts on getting both blocks producing well and consistently.”