As the last of the late cherries are plucked from trees in the Okanagan this week, it’s become clear that frost and cool weather during blossom time in the spring has had a significant impact on the size of this year’s crop.
President of the B.C. Cherry Association, Christine Dendy of Kelowna, estimates this year’s crop to be around 50 to 60 per cent of normal—a loss estimated at $32 million.
While last year’s crop was estimated at about 16,000 tonnes, this year they picked an estimated total of 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes, she said.
Spring frost resulted in a much-smaller-than-normal crop produced by growers in adjacent Washington State as well, she noted—about half normal.
“Next year will be a big challenge as both Washington and B.C. could have big crops with new production coming into bearing as well,” she commented.
Cherry production in the Northwest has increased exponentially in recent years as more and more growers replanted apples to cherries, with low prices on global markets for apples and with newer varieties of cherries providing a lengthened season for harvesting and marketing.
There are still young trees that are just coming into production in both countries.
Byron Jonson, general manager for the agriculture ministry’s crop insurance branch in Kelowna, says not all producers, particularly some of the larger cherry growers, participate in the program, but he said they have seen claims for losses in the Oliver-Osoyoos area of 75 per cent of last year’s crop, and 30 to 50 per cent in the Similkameen.
Growers in the Creston and Oyama areas also put in claims for spring frost damage, resulting in a lighter crop there than in 2012.
As well, Jonson said there were eight rain events in June in the North Okanagan, Oliver-Osoyoos area and the Similkameen which caused a significant amount of cherry splitting, particularly in the early varieties.
“We are unable to put a number on the extent of the losses as we are still receiving producers’ Declarations of Production, which are required for calculation of claims,” said Jonson.
Dendy says the cold snap in the middle of the blossom period is likely to blame for many of the losses in the Okanagan, while damage was also done to the tiny fruitlets of the crop in Washington State, where the season begins a bit earlier.
As a result, cherry marketers in the U.S. cancelled their scheduled promotion programs for the early fruit, and the market started out with lower prices than growers had hoped.
A good crop in Europe which was late this year provided considerable competition for local cherries on global markets, so prices were “not outstanding,” she said.
Bloom time in the southern part of the valley was early, but then cool weather slowed it down, and cell division was not good in those early varieties of cherries.
The mid-season varieties sized up better than either early or late ones.
Because of hot weather through July and early August, the later varieties of cherries ripened earlier than usual, so the picking season has concluded about two weeks early for growers with late-season cherry varieties, like the Dendy orchard.