CHELAN, Wash. — Picking time lost to rain may be as big a concern for growers in this fall’s Central Washington apple harvest as any crop lost to freezing temperatures.
“I’d just as soon not have all this rain. The number of days lost for picking puts growers further and further behind,” said Jeff LaPorte, director of field services for Chelan Fruit Cooperative in Chelan.
“Some may be four to five days behind where they’d like to be,” he said.
Having a large crop — estimated at 140.7 million, 40-pound boxes — makes it harder for growers to get everything picked when they want to. Cold, rainy weather makes it that much harder.
“Pickers, especially if they come up from California, don’t like this cold weather so they don’t want to stick around,” LaPorte said.
Some apple varieties are more susceptible to splitting than others if there’s too much rain when fruit is mature, he said.
Splits have to be culled in the orchard or warehouse.
A Sept. 30-Oct. 2 cold snap accelerated fruit maturity and caused some apples to fall from trees before they were mature, LaPorte said.
An Oct. 10-11 freeze, with temperatures in the low 20s, began to raise quality issues. It’s not a huge problem because it didn’t last long, but warehouses have to be more careful in assessing apples and moving them quickly because they may not store well, he said.
“So far we haven’t seen anything that looks like a disaster. In the past where we saw problems was when it didn’t thaw out in the day. An October freeze several years back, people lost a lot of fruit,” LaPorte said. “We hope mother nature comes back to our side and it quits raining so we can get it picked.”
There isn’t a lot of freeze or frost experience with newer varieties but “so far out in the field in our area it seems fruit still has good integrity, so we’re optimistic we can store it,” he said. “Most of the state will be able to pack and deliver good product.”
The amount of freeze damage depends on the area. Hillsides warm up faster, he said. From Chelan north there have been “nice warm days” so fruit has recovered well, he said.
As of Oct. 18, the statewide crop was about 80% harvested, LaPorte said, and everyone would be in great shape without rain. Still, he said, most everything growers want to pick will get picked unless there’s another hard freeze.
What is left on trees will be fruit that won’t make growers any money. There will be more of that this year since it’s a larger crop, he said.
In the southern end of the region, about 150 miles away in Wapato, Rob Valicoff, president of Valicoff Fruit Co., said it’s been one of the best harvests in the last seven years due to moderate weather and ideal fruit maturity. He said a few wind machines were turned on to prevent freeze damage and no apples were frozen.
Sean Gilbert, co-owner of Gilbert Orchards in Yakima, said the freezes probably didn’t do much damage. He added that demage doesn’t really start until temperatures drop below 26 degrees.