Despite a sudden, hard freeze at the end of February, cherries and pears appear to be faring well in the Columbia River Gorge.
Mike Doke, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers, said it is still too early to predict yields, but early season blossoms look healthy and strong heading into summer.
“Things look really good this year,” Doke said. “Everything is right on schedule.”
Mother Nature gave growers quite the scare in February, as mild weather had orchards budding several weeks ahead of schedule, Doke said. By month’s end, temperatures had fallen into the 20s, threatening to damage the crop.
Fortunately, Doke said growers were ready.
“There were some losses, but nothing really that big at all,” he said.
Pears are the eighth most valuable crop in Oregon, valued at $181.5 million in 2016. Cherries rank 14th in the state, at $79.2 million.
The vast majority of Oregon cherries — about 62 percent — are grown in Wasco County in the Columbia River Gorge, while 67 percent of pears are grown in neighboring Hood River County.
Doke said growers should have a crop estimate within the next month. Cherry harvest typically begins around late June, and pear harvest usually follows in late August and early September.
“It was a really successful bloom that both areas had,” Doke said. “That bodes well.”
Oregon State University has also hired a new extension horticulturist for the Mid-Columbia region to assist growers on the ground.
Ashley Thompson officially joined OSU Extension on April 30. She will be responsible for tree fruit production in Hood River and Wasco counties, combining two faculty positions into one.
Thompson takes over for Lynn Long, who partially retired in 2017 after 29 years working for OSU Extension in The Dalles, and Steve Castagnoli, who remains director at the Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hood River.
“I’m excited to be here,” Thompson said. “I’ve already gotten a lot of good input from farmers and the community.”
Thompson is new to the Columbia River Gorge. She previously earned her doctorate in horticulture from Virginia Tech and most recently was working as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I’m really interested in working with farmers,” Thompson said. “Also, I’m interested in working with different crops.”
As far as pests, Thompson said cooler weather has kept codling moths from causing too many problems around the area. Spraying for western cherry fruit flies won’t begin for another three to four weeks, she said, and growers are keeping a close eye on marmorated stink bugs.
“I think it’s going to be a good year here, overall,” she said.
A cherry pre-harvest tour is scheduled for Tuesday, June 5 at 7:45 a.m. The group will meet at Dahle Farms on Knob Hill Road in The Dalles. Talks will focus on new cherry rootstocks, early ripening cultivars and cover crops for soil health
For more information, contact Thompson at 541-296-5494.