OROVILLE – You don’t like the weather in the valley, just wait five minutes and it will change – from extreme heat to rain and hail, this year’s cherry harvest has seen it all.
Yet despite the high heat, bouts of torrential rain and the occasional hail thrown in, Greg Moser, General Manager of Gold Digger Fruit, says the crop hasn’t suffered nearly as much as one might expect.
“The only thing Mother Nature hasn’t thrown at us has been snow,” said Moser. “We’ve had rain, hail and extreme heat, I keep waiting for a blizzard.”
Moser said not all the cherries have come away unscathed, with some blocks of Rainiers splitting from the combination of rain and sunshine that growers fear the most during harvest.
“Our splits have actually been minimal, although some growers had damage from the rain, especially in their Rainiers. We have had some growers who have had to walk away from certain blocks,” Moser said. “But most of the damage has actually been coming from the extreme heat.”
The growers cooperative’s GM said cherry growers have been using helicopters and blowers to affectively dry off the fruit all throughout the North end of the valley. It hasn’t been unusual to see two or three helicopters slowly flying low over rows of the fruit trees and then heading back to Oroville’s Dorothy Scott Airport to refuel and return to begin the process in another block.
Moser said the cherries are high quality and look good, but the biggest problem his growers have seen this year is their small size.
“While we normally have nine row and larger, we have been getting smaller sizes like 10s and 11s… that’s uncharacteristic for our area,” he said.
The cause was a wet cold spring, which didn’t allow for enough cell division, resulting in smaller, weaker fruit that didn’t “shuck” off the tree because the trees never got the heat, according to Moser.
Now that it’s summer and the heat is here with a vengeance, some growers have taken to running water on their trees for two or three hours to try and keep damage from the sun to a minimum, he explained.
“That doesn’t help the top of the trees though,” said Moser.
The hail has just been in spot areas, according to Moser.
“In our area it may have marked some apples, but not the cherries. The worst hail seemed to have been in the Omak and Conconully areas,” he said. “Most of the hail here came with lots of rain which tends to keep the damage to a minimum.”
Most of Gold Digger’s cherry growers have been sorting their fruit in the orchards and Moser said the pack-outs at the warehouse have been normal.
Currently Gold Digger has over 750 people working either in the orchards or at the warehouse, according to Moser, who says the company is at its employment peak right now.
With market prices down, as well as the size of the fruit, cherries might not make the returns that the growers were hoping for. However, the apple harvest could make that up for some growers as they’re forecasting a strong apple market in the fall.
“Michigan froze out, the East Coast is predicting a 35 percent smaller crop and Europe is predicting a seven percent smaller crop. Even with a record crop forecast for the state, we won’t have enough to replace all that,” Moser said. “Hopefully it will be a promising year for our apple growers.”