Unprecedented efforts are underway to save the North Okanagan’s cherry crop.
Virtual non-stop rain threatens to split clusters of cherries just waiting to be harvested. As a result, growers are using helicopters and fans to salvage the crop and any attempt of pocketing some revenue.
“It’s an endless battle to try and keep the cherries dry,” said Sid Sidhu, with Vernon’s Bella Vista Farm Market.
“Once they are split, the cherries are absolutely useless.”
Late-season varieties like lapins were developed to escape the Okanagan’s traditional early July thunderstorms, but this summer’s uncharacteristic wet weather has orchardists frustrated.
“If this is an indication of July, what will August bring?” said Sidhu.
A common scene at the Bella Vista Road farm over the last few days has been a helicopter using its large blades to generate wind and push the water off the fruit. Orchard workers are also spending considerable time sorting through the cherries to ensure there is sufficient supply for the market’s customers.
Whether it’s the “thousands” on the helicopter, or the increased wages, Sidhu admits this year’s cherry crop is increasingly expensive.
“The more we spend on cherries, the less we make but we still have to pay the bills,” he said of why he continues to harvest the crop.
“It’s a fight worth fighting especially when there is an excellent crop.”
There’s a similar situation down Highway 97 at Gatzke Orchards in Oyama, where the rain damage ranges from 15 to 60 per cent depending on the variety.
Every attempt is being made to remove rain off the fruit, including renting a helicopter for $1,200 an hour, blowers attached to tractors and wind machines.
“None of the options are cheap. The helicopter is probably the cheapest,” said owner Alan Gatzke, adding that a wind machine can eat through $500 a night in gas and the blowers require staff to drive the tractors.
“On Wednesday night, we were out from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. blowing the rain off.”
At times it almost seems like an endless routine.
“We’re still taking on damage with everything we’re doing,” said Gatzke.
But Gatzke and his family are also being creative and trying to find ways to use some of the damaged cherries.
“We’re making pies like crazy,” he said.