BC Cherry Growers using helicopters to heat up cherry blossoms

Choppers saving cherries

The sound of early morning helicopters in the Central Okanagan is typically reserved for late spring when they are used to blow water off cherries to prevent the fruit from splitting.

This year the helicopters have started earlier than usual, but the cold rather than rain is to blame.

"At around 6:00 a.m. Sunday, it sounded as if it were about to land on the roof of the house. It was so loud it awakened my wife from a sound sleep and she said it was frightening. My wife and I have talked to several neighbours and they heard the same thing," said a Kelowna resident in a recent email to Castanet.

President of the B.C. Cherry Growers Association Sukhpaul Bal says the helicopters are being used to push warmer air down onto the orchards.

Cherry buds have started to emerge but the cooler temperatures could damage the vulnerable buds, so cherry farmers are pulling out all the stops to save the valuable crop.

"The buds are starting to pop out and they're at risk of being killed by frost. So we're in kind of a weird area now where it's warm, followed by cold, not an ideal situation," Bal says.

This is a critical time of year, especially for soft fruits like apricots, peaches, and cherries. Bal says even raising the temperature a few degrees can help.

"At this time of year, it's for frost mitigation, trying to get that frost off. If there's an inversion, it's a few degrees warmer, higher up. The chopper pushes the warm air down and pushes out the cold air that's sitting by the tree. Just a little bit can help," Bal says.

Residents may not enjoy being awakened by the sound of helicopters, but rest assured, farmers don't like using them either — especially with the high cost of fuel.

"It's not something that we look forward to. We'd rather have plus temperatures (in the morning) right now and not have to worry about helicopters but it is kind of an emergency situation where you're up against the possibility of losing your crops," says Bal.

For those who love living in the Okanagan, but don't like the sound of early morning helicopters, Bal says, "look at the bright side. We love the cherries and the fresh crops that are grown in this region are some of the best quality, in the world."

"And that's kind of a small price that we have to pay, disturbance so that we can bring those beautiful crops to market when it's harvest time."

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