Singapore's peak durian season hit as Johor drought hurts supplies

Hot, dry weather in Johor has hit durian production, with plantation owners struggling to deliver in time for the traditional start of the peak season.
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 24 May 16;

SINGAPORE: Durian lovers in the Republic may have to wait a little longer to get a taste of quality fruits from across the Causeway, after a prolonged dry spell affected crops and delayed the peak season for Johor supplies by more than a month.

Plantation owners and suppliers Channel NewsAsia spoke to said the first batch of durians harvested in Johor this year has been much smaller than normal. A further problem is that the quality is inconsistent, and some are looking further north to compensate.

FEWER DURIANS IN SOUTHERN MALAYSIA

Top Fruits has about 3,000 durian trees in its orchard in Johor, making it one of the largest plantations in Malaysia. Its co-owner, Mr Tan Sue Sian, said the number of durians in the first batch of this year's harvest is down by as much as 70 per cent compared to last year.

Mr Tan said: "For the budding and flowering, it has to be hot and humid for them to bud out. When it buds, it comes out like a matchstick. During this period, it should be very hot. But once it starts flowering, we should have some water coming in. If there is no rainwater during that period, the whole thing will drop and will not successfully bear fruit. In March and April, when it is supposed to be flowering time, there was no rain water. So the success rate in getting the fruits was very small, and that is why the crop has been smaller in quantity and size."

Mr Tan said he has had to increase the price of his durians by about 30 per cent. His company exports the fruit to countries including Singapore and China.

Ah Seng Durian in Ghim Moh is a popular stall among Singaporeans wanting to get their durian fix. Its owner, Mr Shui Poh Sing, said he usually gets his supply from Muar and Tangkak. This year, his suppliers have estimated that only 20 per cent of durian flowers have grown into fruits. So, for the first time he is sourcing durians from Penang.

"In Penang, their durians are more heritage type, like Bak You, D15, Greenskin, Hor Lor, these are old type durian cultivars which are not found in the Southern parts. For those who have been eating Mao Shan (Wang), there is no compromise, because Mao Shan's characteristics are that they have an intense flavour, strong bitter taste and are sweet. Whereas for the heritage durian, either they are bitter or bitter sweet. The pungent smell is also not there," said Mr Shui.

He added that customers have reacted positively to his Penang durians. A customer at his stall, Ms Elaine Hew is one of them.

"I heard about the bad harvest so I was quite worried that it may be true that we will not be able to enjoy the durian compared to previous years. But the price is okay, and the quality is as good as previous years."

Another popular stall, Combat Durian in Balestier, also gets its durians from Johor and Pahang. Owner Linda Ang said the supply of popular durian varieties such as Mao Shan Wang, D24 and Golden Phoenix has been affected.

She said, "Customers have asked me about this and I said 'Yes, it (the durian supply) has been affected because of the weather'. So maybe you can try some other durians instead of taking Mao Shan Wang - such as the Gang Hai, Hor Lor or D13'."

DURIAN SEASON EXTENDED

The durian season typically lasts from June to September, but suppliers and sellers expect the season this year to only get fully underway in July and be extended to October.

Mr Tan said: "In May, we have had quite a bit of rain coming down regularly so the second part of the flowering has started. For that to come out, it takes 150 days. So the next crop will be somewhere around late July and so that will be a big crop. It will make up for the losses in the first batch".

Durian supplier, Mr Nicholas Tan, agreed. "Last year, the trees were already fruiting in May. This year, the volume will be there, but it is stretched over the year," said the owner of T&L Impact Enterprise.

Mr Shui says he will go back to importing durians from Johor once the region starts having a steady stream of fruit.

- CNA/mo

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