Cherry blossoms. (file photo)

North Okanagan cherry crops take bigger hit than south

An hour’s drive can mean two drastically different experiences in cherry harvests

Fortune appears to have favoured south Okanagan cherry growers when it comes the effects of recent weather on this year’s crop.

According to growers, the heavy rain in the valley in recent weeks could split upwards of 30 per cent more cherries in the north and central Okanagan than in the south.

Over the past two weeks, cherry farmers have been attempting to dry the fruit as it grows with several different methods.

Penny Gambell at Gambell Farms in Lake Country said her son dried the fruit with orchard blowers. Shelley Kempf at Kempf Orchards in Kelowna said she had to watch and take note of the damage done and the cherries lost, while Bhupinder Dhaliwal, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association said some farmers are using mitigation tactics such as sheaths of film to keep the cherries dry from the rain.

But while the damage may not be as severe in the south, the affect of the rain is still a concern there.

Rob Van Westen at Van Westen Vineyards in Naramata said he had to order a helicopter three times to air-dry his 22 acres of cherry trees.

READ MORE: Possibly worst Okanagan cherry season in 20 years

With proper prevention tactics, Van Westen said his vineyards should yield a good harvest with only 15 to 20 per cent his cherries being split. But he said the cost of prevention is not a cheap operation.

Meanwhile at Kempf Orchards, Shelley Kempf and her husbandHerb are filing for crop insurance forms for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

“(The insurance payments) will never ever be what your crop is worth,” Kempf said, noting past experiences with insurance claims.

Despite that, however, she is trying to stay hopeful.

“It’s a new (insurance) program,” she said. “We don’t know (what the process will be).”

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

Kempf said as a result of the recent heavy rains, she’s lost more than 50 per cent of her crop to splitting, makng the remaining fruit from the early varieties too costly to pick.

The B.C. agricultural ministry’s executive director for business risk management, Byron Jonson, said the new policy for crop insurance should provide improved returns through a new model of weighted value.

Dhaliwal said in addition to the rain, some areas at the north end of the valley were also hit with hail, which can also cause damage to fruit.

“In the south, the early stuff picked well,” he the the BCFGA president, adding he still believes the bulk of the season can still be salvaged.

READ MORE: B.C. Tree Fruits launches Canadian Summer Staples contest


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