Storm hits apples, skips cherries
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Thunderstorms struck North Central Washington in the wee morning hours of July 17, apparently causing little or no damage to the remaining cherry crop but damaging apples.
The storm delivered hail west of Royal City, near Ephrata and Bridgeport, affecting apples in all three areas, said Scott McDougall, co-president of McDougall & Sons Inc., a Wenatchee fruit grower and packer.
The upper Columbia Basin around Quincy, Ephrata and George had been struck hard by hail about seven weeks earlier, resulting in about 50 percent damage to McDougall orchards in the area, McDougall said. Other apple growers had a "fair amount of damage," he said.
"Our chemical thinning had done a good job earlier in the season so we were down to one to two apples per cluster when the hail hit," McDougall said.
Pears usually have a little tougher skin than apples, so there were no reports of hail damage to pears in the upper Wenatchee Valley, he said.
Prior to hail damage, McDougall said he expected a 120-million-box Washington fresh crop this fall, down from the record 129.4-million-box 2012 crop. Others in the industry believe the crop will be about 110 million boxes. Bloom appeared to be off in certain varieties, including Fuji and Red Delicious, McDougall said. The Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association will release their annual crop forecast in early August.
Thunder and rain awoke Wenatchee residents at 3 a.m. July 17. Helicopters dried cherries on Stemilt Hill southwest of Wenatchee, Bray's Landing north of Orondo and other areas.
"Rain really hammered us but because the cherries were really dehydrated by hot weather, they had room to absorb water and expand," said Kyle Mathison, co-owner of Stemilt Growers Inc., which has significant cherry acreage on the hill.
There was no damage but there would have been had the rain lasted more days, Mathison said.
Earlier rains caused "quite a bit of damage" to cherries on the lower hill but the upper hill looks good, he said.
Higher elevation cherries were immature enough during June rains to escape damage and are showing "nice size and great quality," said Norm Gutzwiler, a Wenatchee Heights grower.
Barring more rain, high-elevation Skeena, Lapin and Sweethearts should provide good picking into early August for a great close to the season, Gutzwiler said.
Early and mid-season cherries were hit by May and June rains, reducing the crop from an early estimate of 18.2 million to 14.2 million boxes. Some growers did not pick because of rain damage and already light crops.
Through July 18, the industry had shipped 9.7 million, 20-pound boxes with a season peak of 350,000 boxes per day over the prior four days, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.
Thurlby said he was in orchards from Brewster to Wenatchee in the first 24 hours following the July 17 storm and saw no damage.
"It was one heck of a light show," Gutzwiler said of the storm, "but we were fortunate. Rain was scattered and the cherries came through just fine."
Wenatchee Heights and the Squilchuck Valley, close to Stemilt Hill, did not receive rain, said Andy Gale, general manager of Stemilt AgServices. Cherry picking continued there July 17 while stopping on the hill and some other areas in North Central Washington for cherries to dry off.
Mike Harrison, a Stemilt Hill grower, said helicopters dried his remaining 4 acres. He said he had 20 percent damage to his Bing from earlier rains.
There was rain but no reports of hail in Chelan and north of Brewster into the Okanogan, said Harold Schell, director of field services at Chelan Fruit Cooperative. He did not anticipate damage to cherries.
It's mainly upper elevation cherries around Wenatchee, Tieton and in the Okanogan that remain. July 15 to 19 was the peak volume week and the market is holding up, Mathison said. By July 27 harvest will really slow down, he said.
Kevin Whitehall, manager of Central Washington Grain Growers Inc., Waterville, said he had not heard of any hail damage to wheat, the harvest of which in Douglas County is just getting under way.