Cherry-drying helicopter flies over farmland in the Okanagan. (submitted)

Possibly worst Okanagan cherry season in 20 years

Cherry season in the Okanagan is taking a hit, farmers are trying to stay positive

The Okanagan has seen its fair share of wet weather over the past two weeks, causing some farmers to hire helicopters to blow dry their cherry crops.

For some, that hasn’t been practical.

“Most of our stock is completely unpickable,” said Shelley Kempf, owner of Kempf Orchards. “Probably one of the worst years in 20 years.”

Shelley and her husband Herb have seen about 50 to 60 per cent of their cherries split, causing the early crop of cherries to be all but wiped out.

“Cherries do not want rain,” Kempf said. “We are going to try and keep going.”

READ MORE: Okanagan cherries enter the Japanese market

Kempf is trying to stay hopeful while going through the process of filing for crop insurance compensation and said that other cherry varieties, ripening later in summer, might prove to be fresh and healthy. Otherwise, her nine-acre farmland will not be profitable.

Penny Gambell, from Gambell Farms, said they have a variety of crops on their farm, diversifying their portfolio so the impact from poor weather is minimized.

“It’s been a challenge, that’s for sure,” she said. “It’s been challenging.”

But overall, Gambell said her cherries are extra sweet this year, definitely pickable and will recover later in summer, weather permitting.

READ MORE: Cherry season is only a few weeks away and as healthy as ever

“A lot of farmers are keeping an eye on the weather but also planning for it,” said B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association president Bhupinder Dhaliwal.

There are many tactics farmers can use to mitigate damage to their crops, Dhaliwal explained, such as proactive irrigation management, rain guards for the cherries or helicopter drying.

Gambell said helicopter drying isn’t economically worth it unless you have at least 10 acres. Instead, she said her son has been drying the cherries with an orchard blower after rainfall to keep the cherries from serious splitting.

READ MORE: A young Kelownian’s fatal overdose inspires community-service award


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