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Early cherries nipped by freeze


Capital Press

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Tree fruit growers from Hood River, Ore., to Wenatchee, Wash., have been battling freezing early morning temperatures, and early cherries are taking a hit.

"Early cherry districts are cut down some and in some cases a lot. There's definitely a reduction in the early cherry deal but no one knows how much," said Jon Alegria, president of CPC International Apple Co., Tieton, Wash.

There are enough buds on cherries that the damage shouldn't be a problem, said Keith Mathews, CEO and general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington in Yakima.

The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning for Central Oregon north to Yakima and eastward across the lower Columbia Basin to the Blue Mountain foothills for the morning of April 23.

Lows that morning, according to the Weather Service, ranged from 28 in Yakima, Wash., and The Dalles, Ore., to 30 in Pasco, 32 in Hood River, and 38 in Wenatchee.

A week earlier lows ranged from 22 to 25 in South Central Washington and it's too early to know what the apple damage was, Alegria said, adding that older strains of Fuji and Red and Golden Delicious were lighter in buds before any freezes.

Growers are reporting fewer cherry buds following last year's huge, 22.9-million-box crop, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Washington State Fruit Commission in Yakima.

There is frost damage, the crop will be less than last year and the first estimate will be out May 10, he said.

Dana Branson, administrator of the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission in Hood River, estimated overall cherry loss so far at 5 to 10 percent in Hood River and The Dalles.

That's the normal annual loss to frost and not particularly significant, said Ken Bailey, vice president of Orchard View Farms Inc., The Dalles. He said orchard wind machines have been in heavy use there early in the mornings to pull warm air down to trees.

Bryce Molesworth, a Mosier, Ore., cherry grower, said there's been damage but probably not severe.

Pasco grower Denny Hayden said the dew point dropped below 20 on April 22, indicating a rough night, but "then clouds moderated things. We skated by."

He ran wind machines and under-tree irrigation as a precaution. Water releases heat as it forms ice.

There's a fair amount of spotty damage from the prior week, Hayden said. The Tri-Cities is usually out of frost danger by May 1, he said.

Rick Derry, a Zillah grower, said he's been up a lot of nights "doing the battle" with wind machines and water. "It's not cold enough to really do any damage," he said.

Up the Wenatchee Valley -- through Cashmere, Dryden and Peshastin -- wind machines were used a lot early the morning of April 22 to protect pears, said Jim Koempel, a Peshastin grower. "It's not real, real critical, but borderline," he said of the frost threat.

On Stemilt Hill southwest of Wenatchee, Nick Fox said he ran smudge pots the morning of April 22 but doubts he needed them as the temperature dropped to 28 only momentarily. At an elevation of 2,500 feet, he has run wind machines for frost protection into late June.


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