Posted on 11 July 2012 by Mathew White
Growing cherries can be quite the spotty venture. With so much relying on the weather, Mother Nature can quickly turn a perfect season into something of nightmares.
This year, buckets of rain have been dumping all over the province, with many municipalities breaking precipitation levels for the month of June.
This abnormal amount of rain has caused a number of problems for cherry farmers in the South Okanagan, but further north, B.C. Fruit Growers Association president, Kirpal Boparai, said they are having one of the best seasons to date.
“From what I’ve heard, because the south is a lot further (along) than us – they’re about eight to 10 days ahead of us – their early varieties I’ve heard have had quite a bit of splitting because of the rainy season,” said Boparai. “Up north … we have no splits here yet because we’re late. Until the cherry ripens, it’s usually not an issue.”
“If the weather stays the way it has been forecast, we should have a good crop this year.”
Boparai said areas around Osoyoos and Oliver (which received nearly 80 mm of rain in June alone) were hit particularly hard this year, but further north he doesn’t expect there to be any such problems.
Manpreet Aujla, owner of the Aujla Farm Market up Highway 97 on the outskirts of Osoyoos, said this year has been the worst he’s seen since buying his land back in 2005.
“About 55 per cent have split,” he said while giving a tour of his 11-arce orchard – five of which are dedicated exclusively to cherries.
To clarify, cherries are said to ‘split’ when they get too much water because it causes them to grow beyond a reasonable size and split.
A common method for measuring cherries is based on how many can fit in a row in a 20-pound box.
A small cherry might measure a 12 or a 10, while larger cherries are closer to a nine or eight and a half.
Aujla said this year many of his cherries have swelled to an eight, causing them to split.
And although he did hire a helicopter to hover above the orchard Monday in an effort to dry the fruit, it was no match for the onslaught of water from the sky.
Aujla was unable to say exactly how much money he’ll lose this year, but he did say that his pocketbook will definitely feel the hit.
Tony DeMelo, owner of the Lual Orchards, which is located a few minutes up the road from Aujla’s farm, said he has also lost a significant amount of cherries this year due to splitting.
“We’ve had about 69 per cent split due to rain damage,” said DeMelo. “So it’s basically a write off for us.”
“My dad’s been farming since 1967 and this is the worst he’s ever seen it.”
Lual Orchards boasts an impressive 160 acres of land, with 50 of those acres dedicated to cherries.
DeMelo said despite taking a number of preventative measures (helicopter blowing, wind blowers, calcium spraying, etc.) because of the sheer amount of rain, he is expecting to lose about $250,000 this year, something he’s obviously very disappointed with.
Moving to the other end of the Okanagan, and David Geen, owner of the Coral Beach Farms about 35 minutes north of Kelowna, said he has been very lucky to have not experienced any splitting so far this season.
“We’ve been very fortunate so far,” he said. “Our fruit has been quite delayed in maturity and the fruit, to this point, has been green and straw coloured, so we’ve had very little damage.”
The Coral Beach Farms holds roughly 300 acres of cherries with a variety of different strains, said Geen.
They have also taken preventative measures to fight the rain, but unlike a number of orchards in the South Okanagan, the measures worked quite well, said Geen.
Geen did say in the case of his earliest variety there was a tiny amount of splitting, but less than one per cent. And while he doesn’t expect to see any sort of financial impact due to splitting, he said it is too early to say that for sure.
“It’s a long way from putting them in the box,” said Geen. “It looks like summer has arrived and the weather has stabilized, so I’m optimistic. With a June like that, surely we’re going to have a nice July and August.”
When it comes to cherry farming, the weather is constantly unpredictable and this year Mother Nature came down on the South Okanagan with a vengeance.
But that’s something that goes along with the territory in cherry farming, said Geen,.
“It breaks my heart to hear of anyone who has loses due to the rain,” said Geen. “It’s the bane of growing and something you just have to accept as part of the business. You can fight it as hard as you can, and most of the time you win, but sometimes you don’t.”