Cool, wet weather splitting cherry profits in half

Sukhpaul Bal has never seen a soggier, cooler cherry harvest season than now and that’s dampening profit from the fickle fruit.

Sukhpaul Bal has never seen a soggier, cooler cherry harvest season than now and that’s dampening the potential to profit from the fickle fruit.

“The constant rain over the whole harvest season has been a real problem,” said Bal, who has been a cherry farmer for nearly 20 years and is currently president of the BC Cherry Association.

“Usually we expect a few rain storms to come through, then we will get a stretch of warm weather where we harvest…So we can prepare for some rain, just not this much.”

Cherries, he explained, are delicate. About two weeks before they are ready to be harvested, they become susceptible to splitting. They are already full of sugar and water, and they can’t absorb the rain drops without the skin tearing.

They can’t be picked earlier, either.

“You can’t say ‘let’s get them off the tree early and they will sweeten up in storage,’” he said, explaining the fruit’s ripeness when they are picked is where they will stay. “So we have to pick them when they are at optimum sweetness.”

This year, timing has ensured that nearly 50 per cent of the crop has been damaged.

It’s particularly upsetting because this was forecast to be a banner year for cherries.

Not all is lost for Bal. Some of the damaged cherries are being sent to a processor in Abbotsford. Some are going to be used in yogurts and other products.

The trouble is that they are getting penny returns on a product that costs 25 cents a pound to harvest.

It means the great hope of the Okanagan cherry farmer is with the later harvested varieties, which are expected to come off trees in the next few weeks, nearly three weeks ahead of schedule.

“We’re looking at prices starting to climb high because of low supply,” said Bal.

“We still have our fingers crossed for (the later varieties) because the damage there is not as severe.”

If Mother Nature co-operates, local cherry farmers may be able to make up their losses.

Environment Canada is predicting the cooler than average temperatures that have dominated July are about to turn around.

The 14-day forecast indicates temperatures near typical 30 C days. Friday is still expected to be cooler and rainy.