Gold Digger will employ 270 working on cherry line

The cherry lines at Gold Digger will employ some 270 people this harvest.

The cherry lines at Gold Digger will employ some 270 people this harvest.

OROVILLE – It was too early to tell whether the rain Sunday night and Monday morning was going to cause their cherries to split, but growers were doing their best to dry off the fruit – employing everything from wind machines to helicopters.

“It’s really to early to tell. Hopefully it will stay cool enough that the fruit won’t split,” said Greg Moser Monday morning.

Moser, general manager of Gold Digger Apples said he was most concerned about his growers’ Rainier cherry crop as they were closer to harvest. He explained that the more mature fruit has more of a tendency to get damaged because when it absorbs water from rain and there is no room for the cherry to expand and it causes a split. In addition to being less mature at this point, Moser said other varieties like lapins and sweethearts are more resistant to rain damage.

When it rains growers use a number of tools to dry and shake the water off the fruit. Many use the fans on their sprayers and drive up and down the rows of cherry trees, others use wind machines that double as frost control, while others hire helicopters to skim over the tops of trees in an effort to prevent the damage – some use a combination of all three.

“What they’re trying to do is shake the branch a little and get the water to drop off the cherries,” Moser said.

Gold Digger was running three crews on their packing line with two working Rainiers and the other working the sweethearts. “We’re now able to run all three crews at the same time,” he said.

The warehouse also plans on putting on a night shift – when they are working at maximum capacity the growers’ cooperative will employ some 270 people to work in the packing line alone.

Moser expects a bigger crop this year than last as more young trees come into production. He said the number of cherries on the trees seems to vary depending on the grower and what side of the Okanogan River they farm on.

“The east side of the Okanogan seems to be a little lighter this year. We definitely have an overall bigger crop… the whole state is up and we have young production coming in,” he said, adding, “All the fruit is looking good and of a good size, quality and maturity.”

Scott Smith, manager of Smith & Nelson in Tonasket said cherry harvest for his growers hasn’t begun.

“We don’t have any early cherries, so we haven’t started picking yet,” Scott Smith said. “We will start picking at the end of this week. I’ve been out of town for a few weeks so I don’t know how the cherry season is going yet.”

He is hoping the rain doesn’t effect the crop.

“I don’t know how last night’s rain will affect the cherries. It wasn’t a long rain and it started fairly early in the morning. We were out drying this morning and hopefully it won’t get too warm today and the cherries will dry,” said Smith.

“I think the later cherries will be fine, the sweethearts that we won’t pick for a few weeks, but the Rainiers were very close to being picked. When they’re that close to being picked they can get bruised while they’re being dried,” Smith said. “The rain won’t help the cherries, that’s for sure.”