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Helicopter crews prepare for cherry season


Helicopter companies throughout central Washington are preparing for cherry season.


In the last few weeks before harvest, helicopters spray orchards for cherry fruit fly. They make thousands of runs over orchards after rain, their downdraft drying cherries to prevent splitting.


It's expensive for growers, but well worth it if it saves the crop.


Demand and supply is unpredictable. Some years there is little work for flying services; other years helicopters come from as far away as Montana and Arizona.


JR Helicopters, in Yakima, is the region's largest service. Its helicopters work cherries from the Tri-Cities to Tonasket.


On May 24, pilot Bruce Valentine moved equipment from Wenatchee to Mattawa, preparing to dry early Burlat cherries at Taylor Orchards.


The company moves helicopters from south to north as the season progresses. It will send three or four to Wenatchee to serve north central Washington.


Others in the business include Central Valley Aviation in Ellensburg, L&L in Basin City and Golden Wings Aviation in Brewster.


"When it rains there never are enough helicopters," Valentine said.


Some growers sign advance contracts, assuring service. Others don't, saving money by betting against rain -- but leaving themselves at the mercy of the companies if it does rain.


-- Dan Wheat



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