Fiery dragon year brings bumper durian harvest

Budding bounty: Tan examining flower buds on a durian tree at his farm in Relau in George Town, Penang. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: It’s sweltering in Penang but farmer Tan Chee Keat is smiling. His durian trees are fruiting abundantly in the heat and he is expecting a “record-breaking” harvest this year.

Tan, who described the fruiting as a phenomenal sprouting pattern, said he expects at least four batches of fruits this season, which could last until September.

“Normally, a favourable projection would involve 30% to 40% of flowers developing.

“This year, we have over 60% of them emerging, and the numbers are still rising,” he said.

However, the 33-year-old said the slower sprouting of flowers could mean a delayed start to the durian season.

“As the flowers come up slower, we notice more of them growing on lower branches and on young trees.

“The season is expected to start in June, which is about a month later than usual but it will last longer.

“We have identified four distinct batches of flowers, guaranteeing at least two batches, but there is potential for up to six batches which could see the durian season extending until September,” he added.

Tan, who has about 13,000 durian trees in Relau, said the bumper harvest would be a huge blessing.

“A bountiful harvest is coming in the Year of the Dragon. The abundance of durians will benefit both locals and the export market.

“About 70% of my harvest is exported to countries like China, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

“The remaining fruits will be available at local stalls or sold to factories,” he said.

There are problems, though. Tan said the hot weather will see farmers grappling with how to care for their trees. At his farm, he has installed giant water tanks and pumps with hoses running up the hills to water the trees.

“The prolonged dry and hot weather is taking a toll on the trees. Many flowers are also wilting under the high temperature. Without a river flowing through the farm, we need to pump water up the hill and store it in tanks.

“The trees are watered twice daily, in the morning and evening,” he said.

Tan said the recent water disruptions in Penang had also raised concerns and storing his own water was a measure to temporarily safeguard his water supply.

“The hot spell causes an abundance of flowers to sprout but they need water to become fruits.

“This hot weather may not necessarily be good for the trees. They would be deprived of nutrients so we need to increase fertilisation and watering,” he said.

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