Big cherry crop expected

Perfect conditions mean consumers can expect lots of firm, ripe local cherries this June from local orchardists.

Close to ideal winter and spring weather conditions should result in a large crop of cherries this year, reports Hank Markgraf, B.C. Tree Fruits senior field advisor.

“We were lucky we didn’t experience any of the frost issues that other parts of Canada did,” he commented.

A fairly mild winter and a long blooming period with little in the way of freezing temperatures during bloom, all point to a good season which may be early as well.

He is forecasting BCTF will see eight million pounds of the sweet little red fruits, nearly double that of the previous year, when a late, cool spring created some hardship for growers.

That represents an estimated one-third of the valley’s total cherry crop.

Because cherries are so perishable, many growers pack fruit in the orchard so the fruit can be cooled down immediately after picking. Only a portion of the valley’s total crop goes to the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative, which owns BCTF.

Christine Dendy, president of the Okanagan-Kootenay Cherry Growers’ Association, says growers in the southern part of the valley will be thinning madly to reduce the crop in order to ensure they size well.

Hand thinning will need to be done by many growers, which is expensive, but which pays off in dividends in the marketplace, because firm, good-sized cherries command the higher prices.

In the Central Okanagan there was some frost during or just after bloom which could result in some fruit damage or culls from this area, she said.

The heaviest bloom was in the south of the valley, she added.

On the Dendy orchard, she says they prune trees hard each year to encourage firmer and larger fruit, so less hand thinning will need to be done than on some orchards.

She forecast an increase of 30 to 50 per cent in crop this year, but there are also new plantings coming into production, which could push that up.

“There are lots of young trees just coming into production,” she commented.

“There will be lots of good fruit around so consumers can make lots of yummy cherry desserts,” she added.

Chris Pollock, marketing manager for BCTF says cherry season is always one of the most anticipated amongst consumers.

“We are excited to increase our production from last year and see fresh B.C.-produced cherries in grocery stores for longer,” he said.

An early season helps returns because it allows the co-op to offer consumers a consistent supply of cherries through an expanded season, he added.

With new locally-bred cherry varieties, local cherries are now available from the end of June until the end of August.

The co-op is owned by more than 500 local grower families and it distributes a variety of local fruit, including apples, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, prune plums and blueberries.