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Rain, heat hits cherries


Capital Press

EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Doug Bromiley is a bit of a conflicted man these days. The wheat and cattle rancher side of him likes rain. The cherry grower side of him doesn't.

"It's hard to cuss the rain," he says, "until you take your wheat hat off and put on your cherry hat."

Bromiley's dryland wheat comes almost to the edge of his 9-acre block of Bing, Lapin, Sweetheart and Van cherries on hills on the east edge of East Wenatchee.

There wasn't sufficient moisture in the ground for last fall's seeding of winter wheat, but recent rains have helped maintain it as an average crop.

But the same rains have created havoc for cherry growers from The Dalles, Ore., north through Central Washington and to the Canada border.

Northwest Cherry Growers, the industry's trade organization in Yakima, won't have revised crop estimates until after the Fourth of July but has said there have been significant losses. The Northwest crop was originally estimated at 18.2 million, 20-pound boxes but may end up closer to 15 million.

May 21-29 rains took out 30 to 40 percent of early Chelan and Tieton, but the post-Fourth assessment will consider June 24-29 rain damage to the predominate Bing crop.

Wenatchee northward and three-fourth's the way up Wenatchee's Stemilt Hill was hit hard by rain June 29 from a storm that produced rain elsewhere and hail in Prosser, Ellensburg and Tonasket, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers.

The storm left some growers with nothing to pick, he said.

Sweetheart, Lapin and others appear unscathed enough at higher elevations for a good July crop, he said.

High heat came on the heels of rain and growers would start using sprinklers, fans "and every trick in the book" to try to keep lower-elevation cherries cool for picking, Thurlby said.

John Griggs, 36, an Orondo grower, said he had tops of trees picked first to remove fruit most susceptible to heat and had pickers start at 4:30 a.m. and quit at 10:30 a.m. to avoid bruising and pulling cherries off stems when it got too warm.

Some of the rainstorms missed Orondo, which suffered very little cherry damage, Thurlby said.

Griggs said the worst of his damage was 10 to 15 percent splits to an isolated 6 acres of Bing, but that his Rainier had virtually no splits. He said he made more use out of helicopters for drying cherries than he ever has. He said he paid $1,000 a day for 30 days to have two choppers and pilots on exclusive standby, paid $500 per hour each for flight time and housed the pilots.

"It's not cheap but it's worth it," he said.

Bromiley, 58, employed helicopters and tractors towing ground sprayers blowing air to dry cherries on June 29 but still had 25 percent cullage on a sample run.

"A helicopter can do in 15 minutes what takes us four hours in a ground rig," he said. "I think it really paid off.

"Our pickers are doing a really good job. We told them if they wouldn't eat it to leave it."

Bromiley and Griggs said they've had plenty of pickers. Thurlby said he hasn't heard of any picker shortages that have been typical in recent years.


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