Poor fruit set and a tough growing season have taken a toll on cherries grown in the Mudgee district.
While the total harvest is down, there are still pockets of lovely, sweet and succulent fruit that are nearly ripe and one innovative growing family has tried to cover all their bases by focussing on a range of different markets.
Guy and Ingrid Roth, Roth Family Orchards, Mudgee, are keen to make the most of their crop and will again throw open the gates to their orchard later this month.
They hope to attract a good crowd of people who are happy to enjoy the experience of picking their own cherries.
Mrs Roth said about 10 years ago a whole series of farms planted cherries that supported existing orchards in Orange to meet a "window of opportunity" to export cherries.
Now the export side of the business has taken a back seat to the direct market for this family.
"People now are looking for a connection to where their food comes from," Mrs Roth said.
“Four years ago we had two varieties that had beautiful fruit but not quite enough to be viable to pick commercially so we partnered with the local Eurunderee Historical school who ran a pick your own day as a fundraiser.
"It was so well supported and a lot of fun so we’ve continued and grown our pick-your-own days and this year we’ve partnered with the Mudgee Junior Rugby Club."
In a normal year, the bulk of Mudgee’s fruit is transported to a packing house in Orange for domestic and overseas markets.
“Cherries can land in Asia within 40 hours of being picked," she said. “Yet the domestic market often misses out on the best fruit, particularly in country towns. We’ve been trying to change that by delivering our orchard-packed cherries around the North West.”
All the fruit is picked by hand and it takes 20 people three hours to harvest one tonne of cherries and is the hydro cooler within one hour of being picked.
"Logistically it's quite challenging," Mrs Roth said.
The Roth Family Farms have 7000 cherry trees with five different varieties - including Rons that are black, sweet and mellow and some more firm and crisp types.
"Only the self-fertile varieties have set fruit well this year, which for us is only one variety," Mrs Roth said.
The Roths will host "pick your own" weekends on December 9 and 10 and December 16 and 17 - weather permitting.