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Central Otago stonefruit growers are thankful for mainly clear, sunny days so far this year, but are still facing problems finding enough staff to pick and pack.

Last year, heavy rain that began on New Year’s Day and continued for 36 hours ruined cherry crops worth millions of dollars, effectively ending what was forecast to be a bumper harvest.

Three Kings Cherries manager Tim Paulin said rain in December during this early season caused some splitting in cherries, but fine weather since meant the fruit was now in good condition.

The company commenced operations last month in a large new packhouse on the hill above the Clyde bypass and staff were busy last week packing fruit for another grower.

They were building up the new operation slowly, and seeking more staff to help, Mr Paulin said.

Not making the grade . . . Three Kings Cherries manager Tim Paulin checks cherries rejected by a new sorting and packing machine in the company’s Clyde packhouse.

A staff shortage was a common problem for orchardists it seemed.

45 South chief executive Tim Jones, who oversees about 200ha of cherry orchards, said his company was constantly looking for more staff.

“We have just enough staff but are always looking for more,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by long-time grower Harry Roberts of Earnscleugh, who said the staff he had were fantastic, but there was a shortage of labour in the area.

“Fruit doesn’t wait for anyone,” he said.

“When it’s there, it’s there.”

Mr Roberts, who grows a variety of stonefruit, also had some splitting on his early season cherries and a little wind damage on other fruit.

“It’s hard,” he said.

“You’re very weather-dependent and staff-dependent.”