Cherries splitting due to weather conditions. (Contributed)

Okanagan cherries in jeopardy due to above-average rainfall

Okanagan farmer said some orchards are losing up to 70 per cent of crops

Above-average rainfall has put a dent in the Okanagan’s cherry season, potentially making the delicious fruit a rarity as the summer season rolls along.

According to Environment Canada, compared to last year, which saw about 60 per cent of average rainfall, this year in the Okanagan-Shuswap region has seen much more precipitation.

As of June 17, rainfall levels already reached the average amount for the entire month. Since then, more rain has come, and Environment Canada anticipates more rainfall before the end of the month.

Alan Gatzke, owner of Gatzke’s Farm Market in Oyama, has more than 60 different kinds of tree fruits on his property, but said this season the cherries, in particular, are in real danger of spoiling due to weather conditions.

“The south end of the valley is in pretty tough shape,” Gatzke said referring to the Okanagan’s orchards.

“Winter weather patterns left a light crop on the trees. Some trees are very light, but there are fewer cherries so they are more beautifully sized, but that also increases their susceptibility to splitting,” he said.

READ MORE: Above average rainfall in Okanagan-Shuswap a positive for fire season: Environment Canada

According to Gatzke, some orchards are seeing up to 70 per cent of their cherries go to waste claiming it is unmarketable.

“There are some people with fruit stands that are picking cherries. There won’t be zero cherries out there, but people are paying more for cherries because of the cost for picking and sorting,” he explained.

Gatzke said the forecast right now and over the next seven days is worrisome because the cherries are just beginning to get ripen, to the point they are very susceptible to splitting.

“This might be one of the years that things are different,” Gatzke said.

“It’s often that the north that gets more damage than the south because of the amount of rain it gets, but this year the damage is so severe in the south and it looks like this isn’t over yet and if the damage continues in the north this might be one of those years, where there are little to no cherries being exported.”

Gordie Sandhu, manager of Sun City Cherries in Kelowna said he is also beginning to worry about heavy rain continuing into the weeks ahead.

“We’ve been affected by the spring frost and cold weather over the winter,” said Sandhu.

“We’re down quite a bit in volume. It’s still early for us but the guys in the South Okanagan are getting heavy slits on their early crops. We’re getting close to harvest so, any (poor weather) going on next week is going to be quite a concern. The wet weather just brings more mould.”

The lack of ripe cherries is also taking a toll on helicopter pilots on the Okanagan.

According to Gatzke, there have been little to no helicopters blowing water off of crops because it is not worth the money for the little number of cherries the Orchards have.

Only time will tell if cherries will be available throughout the summer, although this week’s forecast certainly doesn’t help.

READ MORE: West Kelowna winery expects a 25% drop in visitors this summer


Daniel Taylor
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
Email me at daniel.taylor@kelownacapnews.com
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