ROSEBURG, Ore. — Some blueberry and cherry varieties grown in central Douglas County did not like the recent heat wave.
Three days of 100-degree-plus temperatures, including a record high for the area of 113 on June 27, resulted in fruit being sunburned, softened and shriveled.
“No question, when the thermometer hits 100 degrees, if fruit is exposed very much in the trees, that fruit is pretty vulnerable to sunburn,” said Steve Renquist, the horticulture specialist at the Oregon State University Extension Service office in Roseburg. “Extreme heat for berry and cherry crops is troublesome. In June, even in early July, high 90s and low 100s is very unusual for us.”
Both the blueberries and cherries were in the middle of their harvest seasons when the intense heat hit. There was added concern because early forecasts indicated another couple days of high 90s to 100 degree weather for a second straight weekend, but more recent forecasts have eased temperatures down to the low 90s over the next week.
“The cherries have definitely been hit hard,” said Evan Kruse, co-owner of Kruse Farms in Garden Valley west of Roseburg. “The trees have a hard time keeping up with the transport of water to the fruit so the cherries will soften or begin to dry up. The heat will significantly shorten the harvest window.”
While the dark cherry varieties suffered the most, Kruse checked out the farm’s Rainier cherry trees and noted there was still good fruit available with select picking. Renquist said the lighter colored cherries will handle the stress better than the darker varieties.
Mark Brosi, the owner of Brosi’s Sugartree Farms of Winston, Ore., said the recent heat will result in more cherries falling to the ground sooner.
“It’s all bad news for the cherries,” he said.
Brosi said the later ripening varieties of cherries will have good color, but will be soft and won’t hold up as long, whether on the tree or in the refrigerator.
At Norris Blueberry Farms in the Umpqua, Ore., area, co-owner Paul Norris said a couple varieties of the blueberries were sunburned and dried up.
“That heat impacted us, but to what extent we’re not sure yet,” he said. “Some of the fruit is not sizing as well as it should.”
Norris said because of those high heat days, pickers could only work during the cooler morning hours so fewer berries were picked on those days and the farm got behind on filling some orders. It was able to gradually catch up thanks to the recent cooler days with a cloud cover until mid-day.
“We have lost some crop, but I think we’ll get through it as we have in the past,” Norris said.
Many other crops didn’t suffer from the extreme heat. Orchard fruits such as peaches and nectarines and ground crops such as melons and summer squash are still maturing. Farmers anticipate the only impact of the heat on those will be a quicker ripening process.
Brosi and Kruse said additional irrigating of those types of crops also eased any stress on the maturing fruits and vegetables.
Peppers and tomatoes were reported to like the heat with their coloring coming on earlier.
Although irrigated corn fields held up well, Kruse expects that harvest start will be a few days later as the kernels begin to fill out again after being slowed by the heat.
“A lot of vegetables like the heat if you continue to give them plenty of water,” Renquist said.
“One silver lining to the intense heat” was that it negatively impacted the spotted wing drosophila, a pest that likes to feed on ripening fruit," Kruse said. “It’s not very active at temperatures above 90."
The farmers are happy to see fewer 100-degree days, but understand it is only early July so there may be more in upcoming weeks.
“Obviously, there’s always going to be something in farming,” Brosi said. “You just never know what it’ll be, but they’re out of our control. Challenges are Farming 101. We do the best we can with what Mother Nature gives us.”