Drying fruit at rotten hour

Okanagan cherry growers are experiencing one of the most challenging harvesting periods in recent memory, but their solutions to the heavy rains have some neighbours annoyed.

The harvesting period for cherries in the Okanagan has come several weeks sooner than usual due to early warm weather in April, but rainfall has hit the crops at an inopportune time.

“There has been some damage to the cherries, because some are being picked and some are really close to being ready to harvest, so we’re getting a lot of splits from the rain,” said Suhkpaul Bal, president of the British Columbia Cherry Growers Association. “Once (the cherry) can’t absorb anymore (water), the skin will tear and that’s when you get the split.”

To counter the issues caused by the rain, cherry farmers use large fans on tractors, as well as low-flying helicopters to blow the water off the fruit.

“Whatever water is on the cherry, (we) dry it or get it out of the stem bowl area by blowing the tree,” Bal said. “Just to get as much water off as we can.”

A severe enough split in a cherry can cause the fruit to rot quickly.

“We can salvage some of it,” Bal said, adding the damage is quite severe.

A woman who lives near a cherry orchard in Kelowna is unimpressed with the time of day the helicopter drying method has been used.

“This morning I was woken up by a helicopter at 5:30 a.m., which then ran for a half hour, because it was blowing water off the cherries,” said one neighbour. “This is not the first time they have used a helicopter to dry the cherries, but at 5:30 a.m., it's completely ridiculous. Most of my neighbours agree!”

Noise bylaws don’t apply to these types of farming techniques, as they are exempt under the Farm Practices Protection (Right to Farm Act).

“As such, it’s exempt from our noise bylaw, so we have no bylaw enforcement action typically around this type of farming practice,” said Greg Wise, bylaw services manager for the City of Kelowna.

There are currently no regulations governing the time of day these methods can be used, according to Carl Whithler, tree fruit and grape industry specialist with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

“They’ll have visual flight restrictions that they have to follow, but as far as the industry is concerned there are no restrictions or regulations at this time,” Whithler said.


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