Cherry blossoms. (file photo)

North Okanagan cherry crops take bigger hit than south

An hour’s drive can mean two drastically different experiences in cherry harvests

Fortune favoured the southerners for the 2019 Okanagan cherry season as heavy rain in the north could split upwards of 30 per cent more cherries than those in the south, according to farmers in the Okanagan.

Over the past two weeks, cherry farmers have been fending off rain droplets as if they were a warrior tribe set on the agricultural domination of the Okanagan Valley.

Penny Gambell at Gambell Farms in Lake Country had her son combat the rain with hand dryers; Shelley Kempf at Kempf Orchards in Kelowna had to basically watch and take note of the damage done and cherries lost; Bhupinder Dhaliwal, President of the BC Fruit Growers’ Association said some farmers are using mitigation tactics such as sheaths of film to keep the cherries from soaking in the devilish pellets; and Rob Van Westen from Van Westen Vineyards in Penticton has ordered a helicopter three times to air-dry 22 acres of cherries.

READ MORE: Possibly worst Okanagan cherry season in 20 years

“With some good prevention tactics,” Van Westen said his vineyards should have a good pickin’ season, starting on Thursday, with only 15 to 20 per cent split cherries. “(It’s) not a cheap operation, that’s for sure.”

Meanwhile at Kempf Orchards, Shelley and Herb Kempf are currently going through the process of filing for crop insurance through the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

“It’ll never ever be what your crop is worth,” Shelley said, reeling in thoughts of past experiences with faulty insurance claims, she managed to stay a little hopeful at least. “It’s a new program, we don’t know (what the process will be).”

READ MORE: Cherry season is only a few weeks away and as healthy as ever

Shelley said she’s now lost over 50 per cent of her crop to splitting, claiming they are unpickable. That’s a 30 to 40 per cent difference compared to her southern counterpart at Van Westen Vineyards.

The agricultural ministry’s executive director for business risk management, Byron Jonson, said the new policy for insurance claims have “improved returns” through a new model of weighted value.

Dhaliwal even said some areas up north were hit with hail, which could cause damage in its own right, besides the cherries absorbing the moisture and bursting.

“In the south, the early stuff picked well,” he said. And it’s looking as if, through Van Westen’s eyes, the bulk of picking season can still be salvaged.

READ MORE: B.C. Tree Fruits launches Canadian Summer Staples contest


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David.venn@kelownacapnews.com

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