Bumper berry harvest for NSW farmers following wet summer

While many harvests were disrupted by recent flooding across central west New South Wales, a berry farmer near Orange has experienced his best yield on record.

Huntley Berry Farm manager Tony Belmonte said the weather conditions could not have been more perfect after heavy rainfall and warm temperatures. 

“To date we are having an awesome season, picking a lot of strawberries. It is possibly going to be our best blueberry season on record, even raspberries are just out there flourishing,” Mr Belmonte said. 

“In the last 30 years that I have lived in Orange, it would have to be the most amount of rain that it has ever received.

“Everything is just lining up, we have got plenty of moisture, plenty of sunshine.”

Middle aged man in a blue shirt holding blue berries in his hand surrounded by green bushesMiddle aged man in a blue shirt holding blue berries in his hand surrounded by green bushes
Huntley Berry Farm owner Tony Belmonte says more than 3,000 people have visited the property this season.(ABC Central West: Hamish Cole )

Orange Airport received 1,455 millimetres of rain in 2021 — making it the fourth wettest year on record in the region. 

Mr Belmonte said after years of drought this summer had been a welcome relief. 

“Due to the extreme heat and the lack of rain over the last three years during the drought season, most of our fruit didn’t develop or grow at all,” he said. 

“When it did grow on those hot summer days through December, it was actually so hot that it was just dropping to the ground.

“So this is actually the first time in three years that the Huntley Berry Farm has actually picked blueberries. 

A blackboard sign with strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries written on itA blackboard sign with strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries written on it
For the first time in three years, Huntley Berry Farm is seeing fruit grow after heavy rainfall and warm temperatures. (ABC Central West: Hamish Cole )

Threat of Omicron 

While there are plenty of berries available, the spread of Omicron has had an impact on visitors to the farm, particularly with the cancellation of large bus tours. 

“We have seen a downturn in visitors since it has been in the news lately, I think people are starting to get a little bit nervous,” Mr Belmonte said. 

“The bus trips out here on the farm are a big part of our revenue.

“It is always devastating when visitors have to cancel their trips.

Combination of blue and purple berries surrounded by green leaves Combination of blue and purple berries surrounded by green leaves
Tony Belmonte says the recent cancellations have been a blow for the farm but hopes visitation increases in the coming months, (ABC Central West: Hamish Cole )

The Huntley Berry Farm employs 14 disability workers as part of a program to help them gain farm skills for future employment. 

Mr Belmonte said in order to protect staff they had made changes to the way they operated. 

“We have reacted to that by having our staff work different days so some are not exposed to visitors.”

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