A wet summer start is putting a strain on local tree fruit crops.

A wet summer start is putting a strain on local tree fruit crops.

Sloppy summer start putting a damper on agriculture

B.C. Fruit Growers' Association resorts to using helicopters to dry fruit

  • Jul. 22, 2011 12:00 p.m.

Mother Nature’s moody skies aren’t just putting a damper on summer fun, they’re hampering the agricultural industry’s attempts to move ahead after a couple tough years.

“This time of the year, we’re looking to the sky and wondering what’s in store — it’s always worrisome,” said Joe Sardinha, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

Sardinha had yet to hear of the impact of Sunday’s hail and rain storms, but he pointed out that the apple crops really don’t need any more trouble this year.

“They’re sizing well because the trees aren’t under stress,” he said.

“But we had one day where temperatures reached into the lower 30s, and the apples weren’t conditioned for hot weather, so there was a little sunburning.”

Apples, he explained, aren’t acclimatized due to the heavy cloud cover that’s been over the valley all summer, and that creates the risk.

They’re also prone to marking if there’s a heavy storm.

While apple farmers are keeping a weathered eye on everything from sun to hail, cherry farmers are also being vigilant.

Some Okanagan orchardists have brought in helicopters to dry the cherries following heavy rains while others are waiting patiently for their picking season to come online.

“Cherries are worth more and more so they’re worth protecting…although it’s a considerable expense,” Sardinha said of the practice that has a whirly bird fly above crops to blow away water and prevent splitting.

“Growers will be on a list, so the cost for the time in the air will be shared by several farmers.”

Cherries are believed to be growing well so far, but they are anywhere from 10 days to two weeks behind schedule.

That’s led to another problem.

“We have an abundance of pickers ready to harvest, and they’re having to wait around,” said Sardinha.

Those pickers typically come in from Quebec, although Sardinha said there’s a growing number of Mexican labourers waiting around as well.

All said and done, it’s another tumultuous year in agriculture, but Sardinha is taking a sunnier approach than the weather.

“On the bright side, our crops are in the ground, which is better than  what’s happening with prairie farmers who have muddy fields that can’t seed,” he said.

“Weather is just weird, for lack of a better word.”