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Rainy start to summer could damage cherry crop in the Okanagan

Click to play video 'Okanagan farmers scrambling to save cherry crops' Okanagan farmers scrambling to save cherry crops
Some Okanagan farmers have had to call in aerial support to save their cherry crops after the recent rain.

Those who live in and visit the Okanagan aren’t the only ones wishing for warmer and sunnier days.

Cherry farmers in the area are also disappointed with the rainy conditions of late, as it causes problems for their crops.

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“Once the cherries reach the point where they’re pink, that’s when they become vulnerable to cracking,” said David Geen, owner-operator of Coral Beach Farms.

“Cherries crack because the flesh of the cherry absorbs water and expands more quickly than the skin can accommodate it.”

Geen says that in order to prevent cracking after a rainy day, the cherries need to be dried quickly. Farmers will go to seemingly extreme measures to do so.

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“That’s why the helicopters come in and we also use ground tractor-operated equipment to dry them as well,” he said.

“The helicopters fly about 10 to 15 feet above treetop… And the downwash from the helicopter vibrates the branches and actually causes the cherries to jiggle on the stem, and it knocks the water off the bottom of the cherry and out of the stem bowl.”

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Geen said the method isn’t 100 per cent effective, but it’s effective enough at preventing cracking when combined with ground-operated equipment.

“The helicopter removes anywhere from 80 to 90 per cent of the water and the ground-operated equipment knocks the rest of it off.”

Though using a helicopter is an expensive option for farmers, Geen says they’re great for covering large areas in a short amount of time and the cost of using one is far less than losing an entire crop of fruit.

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“The cost of losing the cherries is much higher, so we find over the years that it’s very cost-effective to use helicopters.”

Other farmers, however, appreciate the wet weather, saying it’s great for their crops.

“My crops love rain,” says Rupi Bhangu from KLO Farm Market.

“I know the cherry farmers, it does affect them.”