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‘The most stressful year of my life’: Okanagan cherries devastated by heat wave

There are widespread reports across the province of heat damage to apple and cherry crops
Karma Gill, the co-owner of Kelowna’s Farming Karma. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)

In his 26 years of farming, Karma Gill has never seen anything like this before.

The recent heat dome’s damage to his cherry and apple crops is nothing short of devastating.

“We should be picking (cherries) now. But they’re too soft now — that’s the heat,” said Gill, who co-owns Kelowna’s Farming Karma alongside his wife, Kuku.

Initially, when temperatures began to rise in June, Gill said he welcomed the heat, seeing as the past two seasons were jeopardized by frost and excessive rain damage. But it continued to get hotter and hotter until his cherries began to wilt.

He estimates that the impact of the heat dome — which has shattered record highs and exacerbated wildfires across the province — has resulted in a loss of $800,000 just from cherries alone.

“This year is totally the most stressful year of my life,” he said.

Gill holds cherries from his crop that were damaged from the recent heat dome. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Gill holds cherries from his crop that were damaged from the recent heat dome. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)

And he’s worried that the harvesting season will only get worse.

“We’re working the same way. We cannot stop anytime,” he said. “We do the same spray. We do not stop anything. My workers are ready to go. I don’t know what will happen.”

READ MORE: ‘Heat is just relentless’: Meteorologist warns of hot, dry summer ahead for B.C.

Unfortunately, Gill’s farming experience during the unprecedented heatwave is not an isolated event.

Glen Lucas, the general manager of the BC Fruit Grower’s Association, said there are widespread reports across the province of heat damage to apple and cherry crops.

“There will be heat damage to the other crops as well, but right now, apples and cherries is what we’ve heard,” said Lucas. “Sunburn is happening on the fruit itself. The heat was so intense last week that the fruit actually got sunburned.”

Farms located in regions across the south Okanagan, he said, were hit the hardest.

“That would be from Penticton, south — or even Summerland, south,” he said. “Down in Oliver and Osoyoos, it got very intensely hot. We had temperature extremes that were record-setting. This was not something that we had experienced before.”

However, he said that fruit growers have no choice but to continue on the same course, with many seeking assistance from crop insurance and field adjusters.

“We’ve had a reprieve from the intense heat, so they are continuing with their harvests,” he said. “In the south, they’ve had to abandon and stop harvesting, so now they’re in that recovery mode.”

Then there’s the smoke from wildfires burning across the province, another threat that farmers have to navigate on top of sweltering heat.

“We dug out our smoke advisory on keeping healthy and safe during forest fire season, from both forest fires and smoke,” he said. “That’s one of our big concerns is keeping both the owners of the orchards — the farmers, their families — and the workers safe.”

READ MORE: ‘High hazard’: Dry conditions, lack of rain spikes Okanagan-Shuswap wildfire risk

If the trend of extreme heat carries on through the beginning of September, he said he expects sunburn issues to persist.

“But hopefully, the weather moderates and we will be able to recover on those late-season cherries and get that harvest completed with some damage, but not the extreme damage that happened to the earlier season cherries when we had those very intense heats at the wrong moment in harvest when the cherries were ripe,” he said.

“If we can avoid that, that would be what every grower is hoping for right now.”


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