The stone fruit sector has been mainly concerned about the drought for the 2023 campaign. But for Anthony Oboussier, who produces cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and kiwis in the Drôme department of France, this year’s harvest has been severely impacted by the excess of rainfall.
“Since the beginning of May, we have had between 70 and 80 mm of water, which has directly impacted fruit quality. I should have started harvesting my cherries last week. But the excess of water when they reached maturity has caused them to burst and I will not be able to sell them. This is in stark contrast to last year, when the hot and dry weather preceding the harvest had resulted in excellent fruit quality.”
Excess water, hail and cool temperatures have impacted the orchards
Unfortunately, the excess of water is not the only weather-related problem stone fruit growers face at the moment. “We had rain again today and the temperatures are 10 degrees too low for the fruit to ripen properly. At the moment, we are also affected by thunderstorms that bring not only water but also hail. Last week, we had a major hail storm that affected 30% of our orchards, those which were not protected by anti-hail nets. As a result, an additional percentage of the crop will have to be downgraded or will not be sold at all.”
Early apricot harvest threatened
This excess of water has been highly detrimental to the cherry harvest so far, but it is now also threatening the apricot campaign. “We’ve actually had a lot of water at a time when very little was needed to guarantee good fruit quality. 40 mm fell in just 1 week, which is a considerable amount. We just started harvesting the very early varieties of apricots and we fear quality problems linked to skin deterioration.”
Intelligent water management to save money
In order to adapt to the excess or lack of water, Anthony has chosen to rely on decision-support tools that enable him to adjust his water supply to the orchards as effectively as possible. “Since 2019, I have started to equip myself with connected tensiometric probes that I place in the plots in order to know the hygrometry of the soil at all times. This year, I only watered once, at a rate of 20 mm, at the very beginning of May when the trees really needed it. It is certainly an investment but a small one thanks to government and regional subsidies, which encourage us to invest in this type of equipment by subsidizing installations by 30% to 50%, and it quickly pays off in water savings.”