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Cherry growers struggle with fall-out from storm

The increasingly familiar thrum of helicopters could be heard across Kelowna Thursday, but this time it wasn't for firefighting.

A storm that threw down a record-making 29 mm of rain over 24 hours prompted cherry growers to call on choppers to hover above their crops for an emergency blow-dry.

Dr. David Geen, past treasurer of the B.C. Cherry Growers Association, said the maneuver is one of the only ways to save a crop from being water-logged.

"The cherry keeps absorbing water until it bursts its skin," he said. "Sometimes it sits on the point of the cherry and you get a nose split, often sits by the stem, and you'll get a cracked stem."

The key to avoiding damage is acting swiftly.

"My experience has always been you have four hours, there's no problem. Six hours you get some issues," he said. "More than 18 hours you invariably have trouble."

Some cherries, such as the Skeena variety, have a greater propensity for splitting than others.

With the bulk of drying efforts behind them, the question cherry growers will face now is whether they took damage mitigating efforts early enough to protect profit margins.

"It's a devastating time of year for this to have happened. When you get a number of damaged cherries, your profitability goes down," explained Geen.

Worse yet, Geen estimated that only 25 per cent of the Central and North Okanagan's cherries would have been picked yet.

"Our market runs from August even into September," he said. "The price goes up 50 cents a week, up to the middle of August. If you can grow fruit late in an area late, that's  ideal."

It's a method that's riskier, too.

Nature throws everything from storms like these to frost at growers looking to get maximum returns on their season.

More information on how cherry growers fared during this storm will come forward in upcoming days.

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