Despite losing 10 per cent of the crop to late November rains, South West cherry farmers are on track for a healthy 80-tonne harvest after good spring growing conditions. And a mixed bag of locals — from school leavers to FIFO workers — are helping get the crops off. For many, the dotting of highways with stalls selling fresh cherries signals the start of summer. Donnybrook grower Tore Licciardello, of Licciardello and Son Orchards, said his family had been selling all sorts of fruit on-farm since the 1920s, but there was something special about the sweet summer fruit. Since harvest started on their 3000 trees in mid-November, Aylene Sutton, who he dubbed the “Cherry Queen of Donnybrook”, has been in front of the orchard, selling freshly picked fruit to passers by. “Aylene’s been serving at that stall for over five years now and she has the customers that I think they more go just to see her than the cherries,” he laughed. While November rain had an impact on some of the crop, Mr Licciardello said it only damaged those that were ripe at the time. “We had a lot of cherry split which we just had to sort out and throw away,” he said. “It only affects when the fruit is ready to pick. While the horticulture industry has been under immense pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic depleting its seasonal workforce, Mr Licciardello said they had been fortunate enough to fill positions usually taken by backpackers with West Aussies. “Because of the government schemes they’ve been doing, we’ve managed to get more locals to help and we’re getting the crop off,” he said. A few local faces have also made their way to George and Kathy Grozotis’s Manjimup farm, Cherry Lane Fields. In October, mere weeks before harvest began, they had just a handful of workers to pick the fruit from their 14,000 trees. They feared at the height of harvest next week — when 50 are needed — they would fall well short. But a number of locals have listened to the State plight to “Work and Wander Out Yonder”, relieving some of the pressure. “So we have been able to put on school leavers and ag students and are having real success with the next generation of farm workers.” “Travelling to the area provides a great experience over summer, it’s early mornings and hard work but you can make some friends and see what farming is about.” While they have only needed 15 workers so far, the State’s biggest cherry growers — who are on track to harvest 40 tonnes — are “crossing their fingers” the 35 other West Aussie workers who have signed up for the height of harvest next week will turn up. “We’ve had a good response,” Mrs Grozotis said. “I have them all on paper, just fingers crossed that they all show up.” For those wanting to purchase fruit on-farm, A Southern Forests Cherry Trail map is at southernforestsfood.com/cherrrytrail.