Colder spring delaying cherry pick for farmers in the South Okangan

Cherry pick delayed by frost

Casey Richardson

The colder spring has delayed cherry growth in the South Okanagan and impacted farmers' timelines for their harvest, which pushes sales for them around a key time.

Balpreet Gill, who is the operations manager for Gold Star Fruit Company in Oliver, explained that his cherry harvest in Osoyoos looks to be pushed a week later now at least.

“Being pushed closer and closer towards Canada Day, it definitely does mean more of a crop will get picked post July 1, and ideally we would like to pick before July 1, so we can have it packed and ready and shipped to stores for people to enjoy on Canada Day,” he said.

“We're anticipating to begin in the third week of June in Osoyoos and we're expecting to go to almost the end of August this year, as we go up into Kelowna, then Lake Country and Vernon.”

An unusually cooler start to spring carried frost into April and held the fruits in an abnormally long bloom.

“Even our bee lady said the same thing. She'd never seen the bloom this long. A lot of it was due to cold temperatures at night,” Gill said.

“It was a really tough year battling frost. And it did take a toll on some of the orchards in the valley on cherries and peaches and even apples. Every orchard is a little bit different.”

Their plot that sits up on a higher elevation in Oliver is helped by having more wind to blow off frost and rain.

“Some fields weren't as lucky, we did get a reduced crop due to cold temperature. And also our bees weren't working as well as normally either.”

BC Fruit Growers Association GM Glen Lucas said that it's still a little early on the full outlook for cherries, as they are just getting a sense of where farmers are at this season.

“[We're] expecting a little lighter crop than a full crop, but that should be okay. Just help size up the cherries. There's some areas that will have been hit harder by the frost and other areas that don't have as much damage,” he said.

Right now the trees need temperatures to rise and sun to shine to help the cherries and other fruits grow.

Both Lucas and Gill hope to not have to face another heat dome this year, after last year damaged a large amount of crops throughout the interior region.

“We did learn a lot of things last year but if we were to see those temperatures near 50 Celsius again, there's only so much you can do…We're at the mercy of the weather there,” Gill added.

While there are several programs such as crop insurance and the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation that do come into play that have supported growers, Gill said they never received any compensation when they lost fruit from the scorching temperatures.

“We lost fruit at the packing line, we lost fruit on the trees but there's never really any program in place to help us because something like that has never happened before. It was a once in a lifetime event, we hope.”

Price increases are expected to come this summer for fresh fruits, as orchardists face higher expenses than last year.

“Everything across the board for farmers has gone up. It's not the farmer making more money, it's the farmer having to pay more to put fuel in his tractor, to pay more for the fertilizer that goes on the ground… and trying to get as much back so they can keep the operation viable for next year.”

Farmers are asking for support this summer, encouraging the community to buy local produce whenever they can.

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